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Proposed Petaluma Walgreens may be dead without drive-thru

Published: Friday, January 10, 2014 at 8:51 a.m.
Last Modified: Friday, January 10, 2014 at 8:51 a.m.

A proposed drive-thru pharmacy across from Petaluma Valley Hospital appears “dead in the water” unless the developer submits a modified plan that complies with city rules banning most vehicular pick-up lanes.

Browman Development of Walnut Creek this week sought a new hearing before City Council members as soon as possible for another chance to try convince them a drive-thru is a public benefit. The council declined to reconsider the mattter.

The company was told in September that a new pharmacy was welcome, but that a drive-thru wasn’t. The city banned new drive-thru lanes several years ago in an effort to prevent pollution-causing emissions created by idling vehicles.

Earlier this year, the Petaluma Health Care District and Browman proposed a 2-acre retail development with a 7,500-square-foot office building and a 14,500-square-foot Walgreens drugstore on district-owned land at McDowell Boulevard and Lynch Creek Way.

They argued that the benefits to the community of a convenient drive-thru operation should override the ban.

After the Planning Commission in July rejected the requested zoning changes, developers appealed to the council, which in September sent the proposal back to the planning board with indications that it supports the overall project, but only without a drive-thru.

This week, Jim Stephens of Browman Development sought a second opportunity to sway the council. He said another hearing would allow them to explain why a drive-thru is so important to Walgreens and what the community benefits would be.

Last fall, the council suggested Walgreens explore other customer-convenience options similar to Raley’s grocery store’s curbside delivery program.

City Manager John Brown said he advised Stephens the council still wasn’t supportive of the drive-thru.

“I did talk with Mr. Stephens about getting out of the Walgreens mold and doing something that didn’t have a drive-thru window, and that’s apparently not the way Walgreens wants to do business in Petaluma,” he said.

The next step is for Browman to submit new plans to the city, minus the drive-thru.

“It’s sitting dead in the water right now,” Brown said.

Walgreens and district officials have argued that their partnership will provide Petalumans — especially those being treated at Petaluma Valley Hospital — with a convenient pharmacy, special consultation services, hospital bedside delivery of prescriptions and medication reconciliation services that no one else in town offers.

Stephens said the building height could be lowered, hours changed on the drive-thru and extra greenhouse-gas prevention measures taken if that would help the project win approval. He said curbside delivery wasn’t an option.

“We’ve studied the curbside option extensively and have found that, while it’s a creative idea, there are a number of complications in using that format for our proposed use because pharmaceuticals are a controlled substance and they need to be treated as such by a pharmacist,” he said.

City planning staff hadn’t received any new plans by Thursday afternoon.

(You can reach Staff Writer Lori A. Carter at 762-7297 or lori.carter@pressdemocrat.com.)

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