In a chess-like maneuver, Rite Aid has blocked Walgreens from buying a valuable lot near one of its stores, and the delay may have cost Walgreens the game.
Walgreens wants to build a pharmacy at the corner of State Street and Brandywine Avenue, which is already home to a bustling Rite Aid and a long-closed Eckerds. But it can’t because Rite Aid bought the Eckerds lot first, and it won’t sell to its competitor.
Undeterred, Walgreens proposed building next to the former Fratello’s Restaurant, a vacant lot directly across from both Rite Aid and Eckerds. But it looks like it took the company too long to get to this point. The City Council is poised to approve a sweeping new zoning map and comprehensive plan, which would forbid nearly all of the Walgreens features.
Walgreens wants a drive-through, a big pole sign, and parking in front of its building — precisely the type of building that city planners describe as a suburban-style store surrounded by a sea of asphalt and a highway sign.
“There’s the drive-through [which needs a special-use permit], and the square footage is too big, plus we have stricter design requirements now,” Zoning Officer Steve Strichman said. “Any development of Walgreens multiplies the taxes on that lot now, but it doesn’t line up with our zoning code.”
However, the new zoning code isn’t in effect yet. The council might adopt it at the end of March, and Walgreens has already submitted its application for review. The Board of Zoning Appeals will consider the proposal on Wednesday at 7 p.m. at City Hall, at least two weeks before the final vote on the zoning code.
“When does the zoning code kick in?” Strichman said. “We have been discussing this. It’s a dilemma.”
Corporation Counsel L. John Van Norden said the city has decided to enforce the code now for projects still in development.
“It’s going to apply to everybody. The new rules would apply to any development going on now,” he said.
And that means Walgreens may not be interested in Schenectady after all.
“We have extremely specific criteria. If we find a location that fits this criteria, the store will be a success,” said Walgreens spokeswoman Carol Hively.
Among the criteria are a large sign that can be seen a certain distance down the road and a drive-through, she said.
“The drive-through is important,” she added. “We find people don’t want to get out of their car because it’s bad weather or they’re not feeling well or they have someone sick with them.”
Walgreens does have an alternate design for pedestrian-heavy downtown locations, and some stores have “ground-level” signs, Hively said.
“But in most of our locations, most of our stores are corner locations with [vehicular] traffic,” she said.