Drive-through decision is pulling ahead

People with disabilities who use drive-through services in St. Paul will know this summer how new services will fare, or […]

Man taking cup from drive through restaurant

People with disabilities who use drive-through services in St. Paul will know this summer how new services will fare, or if any new ones will be allowed at all. 

The Planning Commission is expected to make its recommendations in July, and send those on to the City Council for a final public hearing and vote. 

One proposal before the Planning Commission would limit where new drive-throughs could go and what kinds of businesses could have them. Another option would be a total ban on new drive-throughs. 

Existing businesses would be grandfathered in. But new regulations would make it more difficult for new businesses to open with drive-through service. 

The June 7 hearing brought out a range of opinions. But disability voices were largely missing. 

The St. Paul Mayor’s Advisory Committee for People with Disabilities discussed the proposal in the spring. The group lacked a quorum or full group of members, and couldn’t formally take a stance on the proposal. 

Committee members raised several concerns. Jillian Nelson and Baya Clare raised issues of safety. With banks, safety can become an issue for people crossing a parking lot with cash. With pharmacies, ill people could be forced inside. 

Angie Whitcomb, president and CEO of the statewide group Hospitality Minnesota, urged the Planning Commission to step back from the proposal. “Please go back to the drawing board and engage with the hospitality industry,” she said. 

Zachary Zelickson of Border Foods said his company would oppose a total ban. Border Foods operates Taco Bell restaurants in St. Paul and other restaurants throughout the region. 

Industry trends indicate that more consumers use drive-throughs to get food. “Year after year those numbers increase for us,” he said. More than 80 percent of customers use drive-through services with his company. 

McDonald’s and Starbucks weighed in via written testimony. 

Not allowing restaurants to reconfigure drive-through services would mean keeping dated infrastructure in place, and could inadvertently cause more problems in the long run. Zelickson asked city officials to consider a case-by-case approach. 

Amenda Duerr, vice president for governmental affairs for the St. Paul Area Chamber of Commerce made several point for drive-through services. One point made is that drive-throughs are often the only food option for night shift workers. Another is that curbside delivery of food, especially at night, can pose safety issues for workers.  The only person to testify for the changes was former Planning Commission member Bill Lindeke. He said that drive-throughs take away from the experience people should have of getting out of their vehicles and patronizing local businesses. 

“The second you put a drive-through in, that business becomes an island,” said Lindeke. 

The study of drive-throughs is tied to the 2040 comprehensive plan and the desire to make the city more walkable. Another impetus is problem drive-throughs, such as one that was at the Snelling and Marshall Starbucks for a few years. 

Drive-through services are usually found at fast-food restaurants, coffee shops, banks and pharmacies. St. Paul has about 77 of businesses with drive-throughs, including 36 restaurants, two coffee shops, 31 banks, and eight pharmacies, out of a total of about  640 restaurants, 51 coffee shops, 40 banks and 17 pharmacies here. 

Since March 2020, city officials have approved site plans and/or conditional use permits for three new drive-throughs, for two banks and a coffee shop. Also approved were at least five drive-through reconstructions or redesigns, all for fast food restaurants. 

Motor vehicle off-site queuing that blocks sidewalks, bike lanes, or traffic lanes were cited as reasons to restrict drive-through services. Exhaust from idling vehicles, noise and challenges with pedestrian access in reaching a business were also cited in the city staff report. 

Under the St. Paul proposal, new drive-through services banned in some parts of the city and still allowed in others.

New drive-through services would be banned in the downtown central business district. In areas zoned for traditional neighborhoods use, including several arterial streets, new drive-throughs would be limited to banks and pharmacies. 

Design requirements are proposed, with additional motor vehicle waiting or “stacking” spaces and design of businesses’ pedestrian access in a way that shields pedestrians from crossing a drive-through lane on foot or with a mobility device. 

Another idea is to prohibit drive-through lanes and their driveway access points in traditional neighborhoods district within 300 feet of transitway stations. Transitways include light rail, bus rapid transit, arterial bus rapid transit and modern streetcar, but not regular route bus lines. 

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