For all its talk Monday night about the proper size of the central business district, appropriate zoning and whether people walked the length of the downtown to shop, the Commerce Planning Commission made one thing abundantly clear: The decision to recommend that the CBD be contracted was based strictly on CVS Pharmacy’s desire to have a scrolling electric sign like its neighbor and competitor, Walgreens.
Because chairman Greg Perry’s brother manages CVS, Perry should have recused himself from the discussion and the vote on the matter. Because he did not, and instead advocated for what CVS wanted, citizens are apt to conclude that he was motivated not by the good of the city, but by family ties.
That’s not necessarily fair, but that’s perception. Officials should avoid not only conflict of interest, but also the appearance of a conflict of interest because in the public’s eye they are often indistinguishable. The logical arguments that could be made on behalf of cutting CVS out of the district are obscured by questions about the chairman’s motives.
In the big scheme of things, the debate is all nonsense created by the fact that two different zoning districts abut at the corner of Jefferson Road, Homer Road and Broad and Elm streets. Walgreens is in one district where the rules are less strict. CVS is in the central business district, which for good reason has the most strict zoning regulations in the city.
This whole affair is about two signs. Walgreens got a scrolling electronic sign, so CVS feels entitled. In reality, neither Walgreens nor CVS needs a sign to alert potential customers as to their presence. Neither store is difficult to find. The signs are an issue because they are part of the two companies’ standard store and lot designs.
Perry, when he finally admitted that the sign was the motivating factor, suggested that CVS had paid its dues and was the good corporate citizen, but city policy had favored the newcomer, Walgreens, with a competitive advantage. If there is a competitive advantage, it’s minuscule, and if CVS is really the good corporate citizen, it will drop the issue for the good of the community. If the corporate brass could for a moment look away from the company playbook at the situation on the ground, they’d realize that a scrolling sign advertising milk for $3.59 a gallon will not make or break their store.
The Commerce City Council should deny this recommendation, at least until the planning commission can make a recommendation not colored by the possibility of a conflict of interest.