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"Well over 50 percent of our fuel sales in Novato come from outside of the city, and we expect the percentage to be similar in Petaluma," Gutshall said in an email. "Many of these gas sales and resulting tax dollars would be new to the city of Petaluma."

The project complies with the city's zoning ordinance, meaning that aside from the design elements, the Petaluma Planning Commission, not the City Council, has overseen the project's application. Safeway conducted noise and traffic studies that showed minimal impact from the project. In fact, the project could make the intersection at Maria Drive and McDowell Boulevard safer because it creates a dedicated transit stop that will allow buses to maneuver without blocking traffic on Maria Drive. Additionally, Safeway said it would employ an attendant to direct traffic through the station to ensure that cars waiting for a pump won't block traffic.

In an August Argus-Courier article, Healy said he spoke with city staff in Novato who expressed regrets about allowing a similar station to open on Nave Drive. Novato City Manager Michael Frank said the issue was with the design, not the station. "I would say the layout is less than ideal, but that was really on the city for not mandating a longer (waiting) line so cars didn't pile up."

The proposed Petaluma station's design includes a holding area where at least 12 cars can wait for their turn at the pump without impacting traffic.

The planning commission has asked for additional traffic studies as well as health and safety studies before it will make a decision on Safeway's application. Meanwhile, Healy is hoping the urgency ordinance will pass soon, giving the council time "to consider changes to the zoning ordinance before this project slides through."

He wrote in his opinion piece, "What I have suggested… is legislation clarifying and confirming that the term 'gas station,' as used in Petaluma's zoning ordinance, does not include a fueling station under common ownership with another retail business where gasoline is sold to customers below cost as a loss-leader incentive for patronizing the affiliated retail business."

The council is expected to discuss the urgency ordinance during its next meeting on Monday, March 3, at 6 p.m. in council chambers at 11 English St.

(Contact Emily Charrier at emily.charrier@arguscourier.com)