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Guest Commentary

Walgreen drive-thru won’t be a benefit for Petaluma

Published: Monday, July 14, 2014 at 6:30 p.m.
Last Modified: Monday, July 14, 2014 at 6:30 p.m.

Walgreens has been trying to get the City of Petaluma to change our laws for over a year now, to accommodate their corporate interests. The Petaluma Planning Commission (twice) and the City Council have refused to rezone the property at Lynch Creek Way from its intended usage of medical offices, to retail stores. Petaluma carefully planned its zoning, and the only place in Petaluma zoned for medical offices is right by the hospital.

But recently, the majority of the city council shifted to support the Walgreens proposal. What changed?

The explanation given was that they felt there is a need for a drive-thru pharmacy window for people with mobility issues, and mothers with sick children.

However, just last year the Petaluma City Council denied a drive-thru window to another pharmacy that would have been located immediately next door to the proposed Walgreens. If the city council really feels a drive-thru window is necessary, all they have to do is allow RiteAid’s request. The need would be met. Additionally, there are several pharmacies that offer free delivery; Petaluma’s citizens can have full access to prescriptions without the need to destroy our general plan.

The city council and planning commission openly acknowledge that Petaluma has allowed far too much retail space to be built recently. The result is cannibalization of existing businesses, and the very real threat of blight — turning portions of Petaluma’s existing retail space into vacant ghost towns. This is a major concern of our city leaders, as it should be.

So, what is the rationale behind rezoning literally the last lot in Petaluma where medical office space is zoned for, to additional retail space? Of the 22,500 square feet proposal (15,000 for Walgreens, 7,500 for unspecified retail stores), over 20,000 square feet will be straight retail, with less than 10 percent dedicated as a pharmacy. More retail is the last thing we need on McDowell right now. And it won’t even generate much sales tax revenue, as 60 percent of Walgreens’ revenues come from drug sales, which are not taxed, so the City of Petaluma gets zero money from those sales.

We don’t need more retail space. And we don’t need another pharmacy. Within blocks we already have pharmacies at Safeway, Target, Raleys, CVS, Petaluma Valley Hospital (in house), the Petaluma Health Center and RiteAid was proposed next door in Friedman’s shopping center.

The Bureau of Labor Statistics states that office based health care will be one of the fastest growing segments of the labor market in the coming years. The enormous need for future medical office space is driven by an increasing population, an aging population, skyrocketing rates of diabetes and obesity, increasing lifespans, etc. The lot in question has been zoned for medical office buildings for decades. It is now the last remaining lot in Petaluma zoned for medical offices. And it is the premier lot in town for this purpose, being right at the entrance to Petaluma Valley Hospital.

On Lynch Creek Way, 82 of 85 professionals polled, oppose building Walgreens. Lynch Creek Way is a quiet, professional street of garden style offices, and my colleagues value that. A 30-foot-tall Walgreens is totally inappropriate there, which is why it is not allowed under current zoning. Additionally, Lynch Creek Way cannot handle traffic from a retail center.

Walgreens doesn’t solve any problems for Petaluma, that can’t be met by existing pharmacies, or Rite Aid. It is unnecessary additional retail space, and it costs us the last lot in town zoned for medical office construction, while destroying the character and intended use of our vital medical corridor. Our city council has an obligation to plan and act in the best interests of Petaluma’s future. Email them with your opinions at cityclerk@ci.petaluma.ca.us.

(Bob Koenitzer is a dentist whose practice is located on Lynch Creek Way)

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