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Pharmacy drive-through OKed, but Meijer must improve landscaping

Here's a photo of what the Oxford Meijer store's pharmacy drive-through will look like. Photo courtesy of Meijer. (click for larger version)
February 19, 2014 - Plans for a pharmacy drive-through at the Oxford Meijer were approved 5-2 by the township planning commission last week.

But commissioners made it clear that before Meijer can put this addition into use, the store will be required to improve its overall appearance in terms of landscaping, the current state of which was described as poor.

Submitting a revised landscape plan that meets current ordinance requirements was made a condition of the site plan's approval. Commission Chairman Todd Bell explained what that means to Roger DeHoek, real estate manager for Meijer.

"You will not open that drive-through until our . . . zoning administrator surveys the site and notices that all of the original landscaping is restored and you are watering and you are fertilizing," Bell said. "And if you don't, you will not get (an) occupancy permit from our building inspector, so that you can operate that (drive-through)."

Meijer plans to construct a drive-through for its pharmacy, located in the store's southwest corner.

The drive-through would have space to stack three vehicles and utilize a pneumatic tube system, just as banks often do, to transport prescription slips and medications between the vehicles and the pharmacy.

"It's just time to add some new things to the store, refresh it," DeHoek said.

Meijer currently has 134 stores with pharmacy drive-throughs. "The benefit is people who are sick, or a mom with her kids, don't have to go into the store. They can just go to the drive-through," DeHoek told this reporter.

Pharmacy business represents approximately 5.6 percent of the total business of a typical Meijer store and approximately 29 percent of pharmacy transactions are completed at these drive-throughs, according to information provided by DeHoek. The average number of transactions (drop-offs and pickups) that take place daily at each location is 171.

"It's become a big part of the business," he said.

DeHoek said Meijer plans to begin construction in June and wrap things up in September.

The landscape issue was raised by Oxford Fire Chief Pete Scholz, who spoke as a resident, not a township official.

Scholz said this Meijer store is "one of the most prominent places you see coming south on M-24," and yet, "that entire site is probably one of the worst maintained sites that we have in Oxford Township."

He noted the ordinance requires the installation, irrigation and maintenance of landscaping, but Meijer doesn't do any upkeep.

"The irrigation at the (Meijer) gas station hasn't been turned on in four years," Scholz said. "The irrigation on the normal site hasn't been turned on (in) probably four to five years. Nor has it been fertilized. Nor has it been (sprayed for weeds)."

Scholz said the middle of a gravel pit "looks better" than the grass areas surrounding the Oxford Meijer.

"It's disgusting," he said.

The chief noted the lawn area around the Meijer store on Brown Rd. in Auburn Hills is in great shape.

"It looks like a golf course around the outside of that building – very lush green, very well-manicured, very neat," he said. In contrast, the Oxford store "looks terrible."

Commissioner Jack Curtis agreed and made improved landscaping a condition of the site plan's approval

"Pete does bring up some good points," he said. "You're taking that to the prom (and) it doesn't have a very nice dress on it."

"I appreciate the concern," De Hoek said. "We need to do a better job of taking care of the landscaping because if it looks bad on the outside, what's the perception going into the store? We like to brag about our produce, but if you're outside and the outside of the store looks horrible, what's the perception inside? So, we are addressing that."

Considering the proposed drive-through's proximity to the exterior entrance/exit of Meijer's garden center, Commissioner Tom Berger expressed his concern that the proposed layout could potentially be unsafe for pedestrians.

"I use that facility quite often and I use the garden center quite often," Berger said. "I still have a concern there."

"We take safety very seriously," said DeHoek in response. "The last thing we want is anybody getting hurt."

DeHoek pointed out that there's been zero vehicular-related accidents at Meijer's 134 pharmacy drive-throughs.

"Hopefully, with all the safeguards we've put in, we'll never have an incident," he said.

Bell noted he, too, had been "wrestling" with the potential pedestrian safety issue, but he believes Meijer knows what it's doing.

"If they find that this is a hazard . . . and it puts their public (at risk) and they lose business . . . I think Meijer will pull the plug on this," he said. "But they've tested it in other facilities and they have one now that works."

"I have a feeling that Meijer is going to self-police on this," Bell added.

Commissioner Kallie Roesner expressed her concern that the new drive-through is going to be built in the same spot where a curb cut is currently located at the store's south end.

Although this curb cut has no signage designating a specific purpose for it and the words "no parking" are painted in giant letters on the pavement, North Oakland Transportation Authority (NOTA) buses and vans frequently use the area to drop off and pick up riders, many of whom are senior citizens and disabled individuals.

Roesner was concerned about losing this space and the negative impact that could have on NOTA's riders.

She wanted Meijer to provide another specific area for NOTA's riders to make up for the loss of this space and she wanted to make it a condition of the site plan's approval.

"I believe that they need an unloading zone," she said. "It could be at the north end of the store. I don't think there's a spot for it at the south end (once the drive-through goes in)."

Roesner's wish to make it a condition did not find support among her fellow commissioners.

"I'm worried about dictating to them about where a bus stop needs to be because I don't know if the seniors want to get off at the north door or the south door," said Bell, who believes NOTA knows better than Meijer or the township what it needs at the store.

DeHoek indicated Meijer would be willing to voluntarily work on this issue.

"I would prefer to work directly with (NOTA) and not make it a condition," he said. "We know there's an issue, so we can work it out with the bus service."

Bell believes it's to Meijer's advantage to resolve this issue.

"I'll bet you a dollar to a dime that they have a lot of seniors that do a lot of purchasing in there and they want that business and they're going to cater to that business, especially the pharmacy," he said. "I am of the opinion we should almost let Meijer handle it the way they need to handle it."

CJ Carnacchio is editor for The Oxford Leader. He lives in the Village of Oxford with his wife Connie and daughter Larissa. When he's not busy working on the newspaper, he enjoys cigars/pipes, Martinis/Scotch, hunting and fishing.
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