After refusing to remove a controversial drive-thru from its plan, the proposed Walgreens pharmacy was once again rejected by the Petaluma Planning Commission Tuesday night. But supporters say they'll bring the issue back before the city council for a final decision.

Planning commissioners voted unanimously to deny a zoning code change, which would have shifted the site from business park to mixed commercial use. The commission also unanimously recommended that the city council deny a general plan amendment for the project.

City staff recommended the commission deny the two proposed amendments because the developers' revised plans were not consistent with the city council's previous direction.

The Walgreens proposal was presented to both the commission and council by the Petaluma Health Care District and Browman Development last year. It was ultimately rejected by the council, which was generally in favor of a Walgreens development, but would not approve any plan involving a drive-thru window. Petaluma currently has a moratorium on drive-thru establishments in an effort to reduce greenhouse gas emissions.

Health care district CEO Ramona Faith spoke in defense of the proposal, citing that Petaluma does not have a pick-up window to serve the city's most vulnerable residents. Supporters of the proposal used the example of the City of Livermore, which also has a moratorium on restaurant drive-thrus, but recently approved a Walgreens drive-thru pharmacy. Jim Stephens, spokesman for Browman Development, presented a letter from the City of Livermore stating that the new pharmacy only creates a tenth of the traffic that a fast food window generates.

Stephens argued that the project "meets the intent of the general plan" due to negligible pollution emitted and other building elements such as energy efficient lighting and "no idling" signage.

Commissioners Gina Benedetti-Petnic and Diana Gomez shifted the focus away from the offset of emissions, saying the argument over greenhouse gases was a "red herring" to the conversation.

Opinions were varied among the commissioners as to whether or not a Walgreens pharmacy is an appropriate use of the vacant space across from Petaluma Valley Hospital, but a unanimous rejection of the proposal was due largely to the language in the city's general plan prohibiting new "drive-thru food and service facilities."

"I can't get past the drive-thru issue," said Councilmember Kathy Miller.

Commission Chair Bill Wolpert said he was surprised to see the proposal back before the commission after the drive-thru was denied before.

"Why is a different outcome expected?" he questioned. "We need to stand by the general plan."

While there was no consensus concerning potential amendments or other actions, several commissioners expressed interest in reevaluating the general plan's imprecise language regarding the drive-thru ban and definition of a "mixed use" site designation.

"It would save applicants time and money to define mixed use closer to our expectations," said Benedetti-Petnic.

No date for the city council's review has been set.

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