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Petaluma Walgreens project goes before City Council Monday


The Petaluma Health Care District will make a renewed pitch to City Council members Monday to try to persuade them that its proposed Walgreens and 24-hour drive-thru pharmacy is a community necessity.

The Planning Commission rejected the proposal In July, saying the general plan amendment and zoning changes requested weren't called for.

Commissioners also questioned the need for more office space and the inclusion of a drive-thru window, which the city banned a few years ago to cut down on pollution-causing vehicle emissions.

The proposal includes a 2-acre retail development with a 7,500-square-foot office building and a 14,500-square-foot Walgreens with a 24-hour drive-thru pharmacy.

Browman Development of Walnut Creek is developing the project on district-owned land across from the hospital at McDowell Boulevard and Lynch Creek Way, just south of the Deer Creek Village shopping center under construction.

Walgreens has said it will abandon the project if it doesn't win approval for a drive-thru, which company officials have said is a crucial part of the company's business model.

The Health Care District was created in 1946 and has publicly elected board members. Some districts in California are supported by voter-approved property tax assessments, although Petaluma's is funded by its investments, real estate holdings and the LifeLine medical alert devices program.

It is governed by local laws that allow such districts to build and operate hospitals. The district owns Petaluma Valley Hospital and has leased the operations of it to St. Joseph Health since 1997.

Health Care District CEO Ramona Faith argues that the drive-thru, which supporters of the project prefer to call a "pick-up window," would be an important health benefit to Petalumans.

"The Walgreens pharmacy pick-up window serves a critical and unmet need in the city – easy access to medication and pharmacy health services for seniors, the ill, those with limited mobility and adults with sick children or parents," she said an appeal to the council.

She said customers likely won't sit in their idling cars for long, because they will only be picking up prescriptions called in earlier.

Councilman Chris Albertson said he's not too concerned about the proposed zoning changes, from business park to mixed-use, but said the drive-thru raises questions. Councilman Mike Harris said he had similar thoughts.

Albertson suggested the council consider alternatives like Raley's grocery park-and-pickup service for electronic orders or Applebee's pick-up parking spaces. Both businesses have parking spaces reserved for the service and workers bring groceries or food to a customer's vehicle.

"It's something we should be able to compromise on," he said. "I have a concern that Walgreens says, &‘We're the corporate entity that's going to come to your town and it's our way or the highway.' If that's the case, I'm happy to show them the door...Drive-up-and-park seems to me to be a compromise."

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

The developer argues that Walgreens' "transitional care program," designed to reduce readmissions to hospitals because of medication issues, is a vital service.

The council meets at 7 p.m. Monday at City Hall, 11 English St.

(You can reach Staff Writer Lori A. Carter at 762-7297 or lori.carter@pressdemocrat.com)