Petaluma Walgreens plan stokes drive-thru debate

A Petaluma Health Care District proposal to build a Walgreens drug store and drive-through pharmacy near its hospital is setting up a showdown of conflicting goals.

The city's general plan, its guiding blueprint for development, expressly forbids new drive-thrus in an effort to reduce greenhouse gas emissions and improve air quality. The only exceptions are for vehicle-serving businesses such as car washes or oil-change stations.

But the health care district is arguing that its Walgreens drive-thru should be allowed because of the medical benefits of having a pharmacy easily accessible to Petaluma Valley Hospital patients.

Its supporters argue that the emissions from idling vehicles won't be significant and can be outweighed by other environmentally friendly elements of the project.

At issue is a retail development that includes a 7,500-square-foot office building and a 14,500-square-foot Walgreens with a drive-thru pharmacy. Browman Development of Walnut Creek is developing the project on district land at McDowell Boulevard and Lynch Creek Way, just south of the Deer Creek Village shopping center under construction now.

The district plans to partner with Walgreens on in-hospital and in-store programs that help patients better understand their medicines and encourages just-discharged patients to fill their prescriptions and take them properly.

The Walgreens plan, several years in the making, would require a general plan amendment to allow the drive-thru and a zoning change to mixed-use from the current business park designation.

General plan amendments are limited to four a year by state law. Petaluma hasn't approved any this year.

The city's planning commission rejected the district's application on a 5-2 vote, setting up a council discussion next month. City Council liaison Kathy Miller voted to allow the changes.

Councilman Mike Healy, who ran on a slate with Miller last election and shares many of her views, said he is keeping an open mind about the request.

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