ProgressLex, a local non-profit focusing on issues related to downtown, has collected 1,300 signatures from individuals who say they will boycott the proposed CVS drugstore on East Main Street unless the store design is changed.
Supporters took the petition to city hall, where they held a noon news conference and called on Mayor Jim Newberry to use his influence with developer Gary Joy and CVS to alter the design.
Dan Rowland, a ProgressLex organizer, said his group is asking Newberry, "to step up like Mayor (Charles P.) Riley of Charleston and demand design excellence, design beauty for this and every part of our downtown."
Riley, who was in Lexington in March, spoke of his enormous influence in Charleston, S.C., to save historic houses and cajole developers to construct buildings compatible with the city's many existing buildings.
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In one instance, Riley even called then-President Bill Clinton to get the design of a federal courthouse in Charleston changed.
Rowland acknowledged CVS is a private development and Newberry does not have the formal power to force Joy or CVS to alter the design.
"We want him (Newberry) to use his bully pulpit, much as Mayor Riley does, to persuade the developer" to make changes, Rowland said, adding that ProgressLex wants a two-story building that looks more compatible with nearby buildings on East Main Street.
The CVS design issue is centered on a new drugstore planned at East Main and Vine streets, one of downtown Lexington's most high-profile entrances.
The city's planning staff has worked on the exterior appearance with Joy, a Louisville developer, for several months to make the store look less like a big box in a strip mall and is more suitable for an urban space.
Most CVS buildings are windowless, stucco boxes with big red front doors and red CVS letters on every side.
Compromises reached by the city planning staff and Joy include a facade that is about two-thirds brick, more uniformity to the windows, an aluminum door instead of a bright red one, a wrought-iron fence with stone columns and exterior gooseneck lighting fixtures.
It will also have parking and a drive-through window. Traffic can access the lot from either Main or Vine.
The design submitted by Joy about two weeks ago includes getting rid of "fake history elements" and other details the city's planning and historic preservation staffs thought were inappropriate, making the building look "too Disney-esque," said Chris King, the city's director of planning.
However, "We have not asked them to make it a two-story building. We felt it was beyond our ability to do that," King said.
The city's planning staff is reviewing Joy's latest submission.
After months of back-and-forth between the developer and the city, the problem is still that the building is a small, one-story design, Rowland said. "I think people would look at it and say it looks much more at home in a suburban shopping center than the entrance to a major city."
Unlike many cities, Lexington does not have broad-based design standards to make sure new construction downtown is architecturally and historically sensitive to what is already there.
Joy said it's been a challenge to "try to define what urban design is."
Architect Graham Pohl, a local architect who serves on the board of ProgressLex, said, "I'm not really blaming Gary Joy. We have failed to set the bar high with regard how we want the city to look."
However, to get design guidelines implemented, "It's going to take someone in a leadership position to decide they want to push it forward," Pohl said. "It's not going to happen by itself, or by a task force."
But the payback would be "astronomical" for the city, Pohl said.
Last week, the Planning Committee of the Urban County Council voted to ask Vice Mayor Jim Gray to set up a task force to "begin the process" of moving toward form-based guidelines and perhaps design standards.
Newberry, who said Tuesday a scheduling conflict prevented him from accepting the ProgressLex petition in person, said he was "glad that the council is finally beginning to address design guidelines." He said he was open to the idea, but his support "ultimately will depend upon the specific proposal."
Various people have accused ProgressLex of trying to "torpedo a downtown drugstore," Rowland said, but that is not the case.
"We want a downtown drugstore. But we shouldn't have to choose between a drugstore with an inappropriate design and no drugstore."