March 6—The drive-thru has played a prominent role during the pandemic, helping businesses stay afloat and customers stay safe.
But some Mesa City Council members think the growth of drive-thru businesses has gone too far.
They fear that the drive-thru
now dominate entire intersections and street fronts, detracting from the appearance and walkability of the city and, in some cases, negatively affecting neighboring neighborhoods and
“We’ve seen a lot of development apps recently where it’s just a series of drive-in installations on facades,” Rachel Prelog, deputy planning director, told the board during its session. February 23 study, “and they basically act like the auto courts, like the food courts for drive-thru.”
Commercial areas host most drive-thru in Mesa, but are also permitted downtown and in industrial areas. The city allows drive-thru in certain types of commercial districts “as of right” — without a permit — and through a special use permit in other commercial districts.
After meeting with members of council to discuss concerns about drive-thrus last year, city staff took a hard look at the issue and considered options for dealing with the impacts.
Last week, Director of Prelog and Development Services Nana Appiah outlined three proposed zoning rule changes that could give the city tools to slow the pace of new drive-thru businesses in Mesa and give to the city more opportunities to weigh in on drive-thru projects before they are built.
The proposed changes would ban drive-thru in Neighborhood Commercial Districts – the lightest commercial district – and require a Special Use Permit for them in Limited Commercial Zones, where they are currently permitted by law. City staff also recommended not allowing more than three drive-thrus at an intersection or in a row.
Staff told council members that the suggested area changes would be submitted to the planning and zoning council for a study session in March or April and would receive feedback from stakeholders and the public in May or June. Prelog said the final recommendations could change as the proposals move through the process.
Prelog said that from a design perspective, drive-throughs pose a challenge for architects who want to seamlessly integrate them into the surrounding space. They disrupt pedestrian and bicycle traffic more than walk-in businesses and bring an additional set of impacts for surrounding neighborhoods.
“We have the sound of idling cars and their speakers,” she said. “We typically have multiple driveways, which conflicts with pedestrian and cyclist activity. We also have large street-facing parking areas and large setbacks that really distract from the design objectives. creation of this pedestrian and insoluble relationship with the surrounding neighborhoods.”
Councilman Kevin Thompson said
his neighborhood is “flooded” with drive-ins.
“What’s happening in District 6 is we have McDonalds, Burger Kings popping up on every corner, and that’s not what the community wants,” Thompson said. “But we don’t have any (processes) that we can go back on and say, ‘OK, Mr. Developer, we don’t want a McDonalds, Burger King, or Jack in the Box. We want (restaurants) that our citizens can sit down and enjoy a meal.'”
He described attending a community meeting with a developer to discuss visions for a planned commercial area.
“Every resident said, ‘Please don’t bring fast food anymore,’ and the two things the (developers) did first – McDonalds and, next door, Burger King,” Thompson said. . He described a similar experience with a development that ended up installing five drive-thrus.
“Five drive-ins,” he said, “on a pristine piece of land that’s really going to be your goal when you come into Mesa from the east. Is that really what we want to portray when you walk into our town – that we’re a fast food town?”
City spokesman Kevin Christopher said Mesa does not account for the number of drive-thrus in the city.
Prelog said the planning department has focused on neighborhood shopping and limited shopping districts for changes, as these areas are intended to promote “walkability, the ability to cycle, … connections to neighborhoods and their aesthetics, and to keep (the neighborhoods) intact”.
Neighborhood Commercial and Limited Commercial are also intended to serve residents living in a smaller area than other commercial districts, she said — 1/2 to 2 miles for Neighborhood Commercial and up to 10 miles for Limited Commercial. .
How large would the impact of proposed zoning changes be on automotive-focused businesses?
The commercial district comprises a relatively small part of the city, at 288 acres, so a ban on new drive-thrus here would affect a relatively small area. The limited commercial zoning, on the other hand, is much larger at 4,334 acres, so the proposed requirement for an SUP might have more impact.
Limiting consecutive drive-thru services to three and those at intersections could affect an even larger territory.
Councilman Francisco Heredia spoke out in favor of the proposed zoning changes, saying he thinks it’s important that residents and city staff have a chance to give their input before drive-thru starts. be approved in certain areas.
“You know, I have kids too, and drive-thru is easy to find food,” Heredia said. “You see value, but I think it’s an important aspect to have a discussion about certain areas. If we already have enough drive-thru, how do we use the available land that’s there to maximize the best use of this area?”
Heredia also argued that requiring permits for drive-thru projects could benefit the industry, as it would spur developers and architects to innovate and create designs that work better with the surrounding area.
Councilor Julie Spilsbury was keen on giving developers and companies the chance to improve their designs, rather than outright banning them in certain areas.
“Having six kids, drive-thru is my best friend,” Spilsbury said. “When they were little, I loved drive-thru. It’s not always a bad thing.”
The city’s approach to managing drive-thrus may change in the planning process over the next few months. Appiah said planners will need to work out several issues, such as defining what constitutes a drive-thru. Council members discussed whether pharmacies and banks should be grouped with fast food restaurants.
“I know since the pandemic one of the discussions we’ve had is the difference between a drive-thru and a drive-thru,” he said. “So maybe that’s something we can go back and consider defining and distinguishing between those two and seeing how that can be incorporated into the changes.”
In their presentation, City staff focused on the impact of drive-thrus on traffic and foot traffic, without regard to specific business types.
Thompson and Heredia directed many of their comments towards the overcrowding of fast food businesses in particular. The end goal of stakeholders and decision makers can shape the city’s approach to managing drive-thru.
“I’m sure there are a lot of people in the business community and others who will want to have their voices heard on this,” Mayor John Giles said, “so we’ll get the process started.” v