Argus-Courier Editorial: Walgreens saga keeps dragging on

Eventually, the Petaluma City Council is going to have to make a decision on the proposed Walgreens drive-thru pharmacy. At this point, what that decision will be seems to be a toss-up.

Thus far, the word winds have blown in both directions. As staff writer Allison Jarrell reports in today’s Argus-Courier, in June a majority of council members indicated support for the project, including the drive-thru window. But this week, at least three council members expressed opposition to the project.

The issue is more complicated than a simple yea or nay on the drive-thru. The Walgreens’ plan requires two general plan amendments, one to rezone the property at the corner of North McDowell Boulevard and Lynch Creek Way from business park to mixed commercial use and one to allow for the drive-thru window.

Both are significant.

The rezoning amendment would change what was initially planned to be physician office space and overflow parking for the hospital to allow for mixed-use retail and commercial, permitting the Walgreens retail use.

An amendment is also needed to allow for the drive-thru window, an amenity that is forbidden by the current general plan.

This week, when city staff presented the city council with an update on the project, a long discussion on the project’s merits developed, continuing a discussion that has already dragged on for more than a year.

Argus-Courier headlines accurately portray the ever-shifting saga of the project as it has traveled through the city process.

° July 11, 2013: “Planning Commission says no to Wallgreens.”

° Aug. 15, 2013: “Petaluma Walgreens plan stokes drive-thru debate.”

° Sept. 10, 2013: “Petaluma sends Walgreen’s project back to the drawing board.”

° Jan. 9: “Petaluma Walgreens may be dead without drive-thru.”

° Jan. 17: “Walgreens developer optimistic despite hearing denial.”

° April 20: “Drive-thru proposal revived for Petaluma Walgreens.”

° April 23: “Walgreens drive-thru proposal rejected again.”

° June 5: “Walgreens’ odds improve: Pharmacy drive-up window gains favor with city council.”

All that, and after this week’s council meeting, it appears the project may be back at the beginning.

We believe, and have previously stated, that the project is one that would greatly benefit the community and warrants the approval of both general plan amendments.

One of the disagreements over the land-use amendment is whether or not the property is still needed for medical offices. Proponents of the project maintain there is a surplus of office space in Petaluma and the property could be better used for a pharmacy. Opponents claim that the need for health care office space is rapidly increasing, and that will be especially true in the area near the hospital.

On the other hand, a drive-thru pharmacy pickup window is needed. Currently there is no place where the elderly, sick, disabled or parents with sick children can obtain medication without having to park, leave their vehicles, walk into the store and are often left standing waiting in long lines.

A drive-up pharmacy window is considerably different than a drive-up window at a fast-food restaurant. While cars can sit idly at a restaurant window for 10 minutes or longer, patients simply drive up to the pharmacy window and quickly pick up already prepared prescriptions.

The proposal, with changes to further reduce greenhouse gas emissions, is expected to come back, once again, to the planning commission in September and to the city council in October. At that meeting, the council should stop the roller-coaster ride, carefully weigh all the information available, and finally make a decision.