Home > Crank, Design the Details, Editorial, Engineering Design > More Cars, More Drugs, More Cars, More Drugs…

More Cars, More Drugs, More Cars, More Drugs…

UPDATE 4:30pm: The number of parking spaces is likely a typo. TC’s planning department has 68 spaces requested by CVS. The Ticker reported 98. Still, 68 spaces is almost double the minimum and still ridiculous. 


Yesterday, Traverse City’s The Ticker reported on the proposed CVS/Pharmacy planned for the northeast corner of  Front St. and Division. The store developer has made purchase agreements on the properties almost all the way to Maple St. They are good for just under a year. Development in this intersection is needed, that is obvious. How that development fits into future vision of Traverse City is a concern though. What could be an opportunity to change the character of West Front corridor into a more dense, walkable and pleasant area, will likely be lost as the City has little on the books to influence a company known for its suburban style development and that prefers not to provide neighborhood style streetscape.

The Plan

Google Street view of a Typical CVS in Grand Rapids

The store is planned to open in November 2012 with a 13,000 square foot floor, a drive-thru and a parking lot large enough for nearly 100 vehicles. It’s unclear to me that the City has much ability to direct the design despite the vision of residents for this corridor to be a walkable connection between Slabtown/Kidscreek neighborhoods and Downtown.

Currently, a drive-thru is not allowed. The City also requires that an entrance face the street on the sidewalk and that the parking lot, which will run for about a 1/3rd of the block along Front St., be placed in the back of the store, be landscaped and have at minimum 34 parking spaces. We have nothing on the books, that I’m aware of, that could limit the parking lot size. CVS is now planning for 98 68 lovely spaces.

So, in all likelihood, the City will get another car centric development with a very large, and my guess typically empty, surface parking lot to look at and to kick skateboarders out of.  Yippee! Not to mention, with this purchase, the chances of a roundabout at this intersection are now all but gone. I could be wrong on all of this and the design may turnout to fulfill all of our dreams–the pattern isn’t promising though–and if that is a possibility, and a reader knows how to support the effort, please, let us know.

Cartoon via Slate

I couldn’t help but think of another article I read lately by Annie Lowrey on Slate titled “Your Commute Is Killing You: Long commutes cause obesity, neck pain, loneliness, divorce, stress, and insomnia.” It makes sense that a pharmacy, and one built to perpetuate driving, is going in on one of our worst intersections. There have been many times that I’ve been at that intersection and wished for some drugs. Perhaps they could provide an order ahead service and instead of a drive-thru, CVS could send a runner out to people waiting at the light and breathing in toxic fumes.

Lowery’s piece ends with: “People who say, “My commute is killing me!” are not exaggerators. They are realists.

I’d add, other people’s commutes are also killing me.

Show me the drugs!

(We will try to keep people abreast of the situation. In the near future, we will also be dedicating a week of posts to the fascinating, but all-consuming, world of parking. It really dominates and influences so much of our public space, even when it’s private.)

  1. June 7, 2011 at 10:10 am

    I was not very happy to see that a CVS is scheduled to go in there.

  2. Debra Graetz
    June 7, 2011 at 12:29 pm

    Ok, for clarification, is a drivethru currently NOT allowed in that space? And the parking lot cannot be on the front street side so the building will be there and the parking lot will be on Division side?
    I am familiar with Meijers having put a different face on the building in Ann Arbor to try and keep the feeling more neighborhood store than giant box store, and wonder if that came from city regulations on appearance.

  3. Matt
    June 7, 2011 at 12:35 pm

    A CVS store is not needed. We have Rite Aid,Walgreens,and Meijer right down the road. As far as I can tell no one is in favor of this except for CVS and the owner of the lot.

  4. June 7, 2011 at 1:07 pm

    Yes, as far as I understand it, a drive-thru is not allowed.

    The store “front” would be on Division St. with parking between it and Maple St. going east-west. So, two entries with the most likely main entry being off of the parking lot.

    Again, there is a lot of time between now and next year and as it moves forward details will be made available. I’m fairly in the dark on it at this point. If people are concerned, they need to watch the planning commission agenda. I personally try to watch it, but miss a lot of items that come up. Send us a message if you see the CVS pop-up as an agenda item.

    That said, my point here isn’t anti-CVS, although I may poke fun at it, it’s more a wish that we had more policies in place that could lead to a design that is more appealing. The corporate numbers probably make sense for a pharmacy in this location as nationwide pharmacies seem to be replacing gas stations. I just wish it could be built in away that helps us become less dependent on, and mitigating for, our automobile habit.

  5. June 7, 2011 at 2:17 pm

    I’m with you, Gary. It’s not about CVS, but about how well TC’s ordinances create and maintain the character its residents want. Parking lots are antithetical to Traverse City’s character, yet we allow them to grow. And then we wonder why traffic is such a problem…. Form-based codes that require buildings to
    be built to fit the neighborhood character regardless of use are needed. Enough allowing corporate chains to design our town’s character for their profit!

  6. June 7, 2011 at 4:04 pm

    Hey Gary et al,

    Just to crank back at you all a bit, aside from less parking, what would be a more palatable option for the property that the market present day would support? The zoning for this parcel is pretty much wide open, as far as the range of uses allowed (wide), the height of the building allowed (tall), minimal setbacks, etc etc. Evidently from the Ticker piece, it’s been 20 years since anything operated on the site. I do understand that there are environmental issues that almost certainly have delayed re-development.

    I’m fine with another drugstore being built in town, and I take it you are as well. I don’t like the sea of parking that would probably be built along the CVS, but on balance I’d prefer it to the blown-out gas shell of the gas station that’s been sitting there for two decades. For one, if I’m living in Slabtown/Central neighborhoods I’ve got another option I can walk/ride/drive to in order to meet my needs. For another, it’s investment in TC, as opposed to investment out in the townships.

    Also, keep in mind that a drive-thru is specifically not permitted by the current C-2 zoning. If CVS wants their drive-thru (which I would oppose) then they’ll have to seek a re-zoning or conditional re-zoning.

    I think the pertinent question is if that much parking was not allowed by zoning for that site would that lead to a better result in the foreseeable future. I think 20 years of nothing being built there is probably the best answer to that question. But we don’t even have to go that far. It would be legal under the zoning to build a 13k ft2 retail store such as they are proposing with 37 parking spots, not quite 1/3 of the 98 spots that are evidently proposed for the CVS. The medical office that went in across the street has similar parking requirements (I have no idea how big their parking lot is). It would also be legal under the zoning ordinance to build other things there, like residential, that would require far far less parking (1 space per dwelling unit).

    So, I don’t think that it’s the zoning that’s driving the size of the parking lot, or the fact that this is a commericial use being proposed. It’s the nature of this particular location. Could the zoning ordinance be amended to not allow even those 37 parking spots to be built for a 13k ft2 building? Sure it could, but something tells me that on that busy corner of Front and Division it would be an even longer time then before you saw anything other than a commercial use being pursued there, and one that relied on a large parking lot. Because most any commercial use these days that’s not being built in the downtown of a major city is going to require access to parking, either private or public. So if you made the 37 parking spots the maximum you could build on that corner instead of the minimum then maybe you’d get, what, another medical office building? Built 10 years from now? Is that a better result? I don’t know that it is.

    In my view, TC has a largely very progressive zoning ordinance in terms of what is allowed and how. Zoning isn’t the problem, there simply isn’t currently a market for much greater density because gas is still too cheap. Certainly there must be lots of folks living in the townships who would like to be living in town and not relying on their cars so much, but they can’t afford to buy/rent housing in TC. And I would bet that there’s no political will in TC to allow high-rises in areas currently zoned for single-family housing to make room for lower-income folks from the townships to move in town.

    So I’d say go ahead and build your CVS (sans drive-through). In 15 years they can sell their parking lot off for garden apartments, when gas has hit $10/gallon and cities in Michigan by state law are required to provide certain minimum densities.


  7. June 7, 2011 at 4:24 pm

    Thanks, Mike. I agree a run-down gas station is the worse case scenario.

    We live in the age of perpetual transition: we have a notion that we need to build for the needs of the future but the legacy and economic/cultural system is set up to build for the past needs. It takes a heavy dose of energy, vision and leadership to break that inertia. I’m not sure we have it in us.

    The city isn’t driving the need for parking here, I agree, it is the economic model of CVS which has the data to convince themselves that customers like to see an empty parking lot. It’s a marketing gimmick. They apply the formula, regardless of the context, and wa-la…projecting an abundance of parking becomes required. Typically I favor no parking requirements, minimums or maximums, but I think until the economic model changes, we might want to consider maximums. It at the least needs to be explored.

    ALSO: The number of parking spaces is likely a typo. TC’s planning department has 68 spaces requested. Still, almost double the minimum and still ridiculous.

  8. June 8, 2011 at 6:57 am

    Hey Gary,

    I agree that the parking maximums in the City’s ZO may need to be re-visited. Perhaps they’re excessive in some instances. However, I don’t believe that changing the City’s ZO is by and large going to change all that much on the ground, in the short run, in terms of car-dependency. The City’s current ZO already allows for the construction of multi-story, mixed-use buildings, with minimal or zero-street setbacks and minimal parking in all of the City’s main commercial corridors (14th, 8th, Front, Union, etc). To some degree (Front and Union Streets) development is moving in that direction where land costs, density and access to public parking decks make such projects viable. Of course, those projects are also priced out of the range of most folks. And, as we see, in other corridors like the corner of Front and Division it’s moving more slowly to densify.

    In terms of allowing multi-story, mixed-use buildings outside of the main commercial corridors, well, the City can’t even approve mother-in-law flats with live-in landlords (ADU’s) in its residential areas, let alone something more dense. So I wouldn’t waste my time trying to up-zone parts of Old Town, because it’s not going to happen.

    I think it’s limited what could be done at the local level to legislate away car-dependency. Probably the best that can be done is to make alternatives at least legal, which is what the City has largely done. As well as to require design elements like zero setbacks and putting parking behind the building, which the City has also done. Racheting down excessive parking maximums in the ZO might be another step the City could take. But none of this is going to do a lot to move the market to a place where it doesn’t want to go.

    I think there could be things done at a regional (and certainly at the state) level to legislate away car-dependency. That would require a serious effort to down-zone wide areas of the outlying townships and up-zone areas of TC and the more urban parts of the adjoining townships. But there’s no political will in the Grand Traverse area to do that, as witnessed chiefly by the fact that it hasn’t happened and isn’t happening. As well as, and more importantly, there’s no political vehicle for such regional planning and zoning to put those changes in place. Which is why I’ve said that it’s most likely rising gas prices and thereby demand for more and denser development in town that is really the only real game changer on the horizon in terms of moving, at least some people, away from car-dependency.


  9. T. Werner
    June 8, 2011 at 10:02 pm

    All good level headed comments.

    While it was said in many words, here is my condensed take on how a reader could influence the final form of the CVS facility. When CVS is on the agenda with the TC Planning Commission asking for a drive-thru, show up and be heard. One option is to say no drive-thru, and see how CVS responds. Another option is to get the Planning Commission to bargain (is that allowed?). Maybe by allowing the drive-thru the City (made up of its citizens) could get a more desirable outcome for the final form of the CVS facility.

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