The saga of a controversial Walgreens drug store and drive-through window in Petaluma likely will be continued until the fall as the city and developers try to craft a compromise.
A year ago, the Petaluma Health Care District asked the city for permission to build a 14,500-square-foot drug store and a 7,500-square-foot office building on land it owns across from the hospital on North McDowell Boulevard.
For that, it would need a general plan amendment and rezoning. The city’s general plan, its guiding blueprint for development, forbids new drive-throughs in an effort to reduce greenhouse gas emissions.
The land in question also would have to be rezoned from medical-office use to retail.
Health care district officials and representatives of the developer, Browman Development of Walnut Creek, have returned to the council and Planning Commission several times after being told the drive-through was unacceptable.
Their persistence seems to have won over at least one previously-opposed council member, while irritating at least one other.
The often heart-tugging discussion over a drive-through, urged by the sick, elderly and disabled at multiple hearings, has also at times overshadowed the more mundane but just as contentious issues of land use.
Several other medical professionals have urged the council to reject a general plan amendment and zoning change, arguing that the planned parcel is one of the few remaining medical-office designations near the hospital, a desirable area for health care professionals.
After a discussion at last week’s council meeting, Browman is amending its application, which could be discussed at public hearings in September and October.
Councilwoman Kathy Miller, who serves as the liaison to the Planning Commission, expressed annoyance at the repeated requests for approval for essentially the same project.
“I really have been very disappointed with the lack of cooperation from the applicant on this,” she said. “I mean, over and over and over again, they’ve been told no drive-through, no drive-through, no drive-through and they keep coming back with a drive-through. It’s like we’ve been worn down by them coming back over and over again with the same thing.”
She said she sees no need for a zoning change and no need for a drive-through when there are options including home delivery and curbside pick-up.
Meanwhile, Councilman Chris Albertson has softened his stance. At first, he was adamantly against a drive-through, urging Walgreens to “get creative” and find other options.
But he said he sees a community desire for the convenience of a drive-through window, particularly for seniors and the disabled or sick, and he believes a pharmacy window won’t violate the spirit of the general plan.
Still, he said he wants something different than a cookie-cutter drug store and will demand commitments of real greenhouse gas reductions and “green building” standards before he will support the project.
“They need to be looking at the green aspects of the building and the scale, scope and height of the building,” he said. “They have a cookie cutter design they pump out for Walgreens. That’s fine, it works in many communities, but this community is asking for something a little different.”
Albertson said he believes a majority of the council is leaning toward approving the changes, but suggested that could go sideways if developers don’t make serious concessions in their amended application.