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Walgreens developer optimistic despite hearing denial

Published: Friday, January 17, 2014 at 1:39 p.m.
Last Modified: Friday, January 17, 2014 at 1:39 p.m.

Developers of a proposed drive-thru Walgreens pharmacy remained optimistic this week, despite the Petaluma City Council's rejection of their request for a second review on the project.

Jim Stephens of Browman Development asked for a new hearing during the public comments portion of the Jan. 6 city council meeting. He said he hoped to resolve whether the council would allow a drive-thru pharmacy as part of the project before working on additional site plan revisions for the Petaluma Planning Commission to consider. But City Manager John Brown said the council already vetoed a drive-thru pharmacy and called the project “dead in the water” at the meeting unless Browman changed its plans.

“City staff isn't seeing the support at council for a drive-up window,” said Brown. “And when I talked to the developer about getting out of the Walgreens drive-thru mold, they didn't seem interested.”

Stephens said he ultimately respected the city council's denial of a second review.

“I hope to be back before the planning commission in late February or early March,” he said.

Browman Development and the Petaluma Health Care District first presented plans to build a 14,500-square-foot Walgreens with a drive-thru pharmacy and 7,500 square feet of additional commercial and office space to the planning commission in July. The project was proposed on a vacant parcel of land across from the Petaluma Valley Hospital. The land is owned by the health care district and zoned for medical office space.

Since the project reqires a zoning change to build anything other than offices on the land, the Petaluma Health Care District and Browman Development asked for the amendment to city code in July. However, the planning commission did not see the need for another pharmacy in town and reccomended the city council reject the proposal.

In September, contrary to the planning commission's suggestion, the city council said it liked the idea of Walgreens coming to Petaluma. But the council did not want see the project include a drive-thru pharmacy — specifically because the city currently has a moratorium on most new drive-thru establishments put in place to limit greenhouse gas emissions.

The council ultimately sent the developers back to the planning commission with instructions to change the plans, saying they would not approve any project with a drive-thru window.

Meanwhile, Browman Development and Health Care District CEO Ramona Faith continued to argue that Walgreens pharmacies do not operate like typical drive-thru windows where cars idle for long periods of time, causing extensive greenhouse gas emissions. Instead, Stephens said the pharmacy window would be a spot to pick up orders that were previously placed over the phone.

“We don't see it as a drive-thru,” he said. “It's a pick-up window.”

But the council doesn't appear to agree, choosing not to hear further arguments on the project until after it had returned to the planning commission.

Stephens — who said he is currently working with city staff on another planning commission presentation — said the decision “by no means kills the project,” but would not discuss any specific project revisions.

(Contact Janelle Wetzstein at janelle.wetzstein@arguscourier.com)

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