Fresnans could start seeing more drive-thru businesses spreading across the community as the City Council takes its first step to ease restrictions on where they can be built.
The council introduced a bill last week to ease the rules for new drive-thrus within 1,000 feet of freeway on- and off-ramps. That would allow only more fast-food eateries and other drive-thus at interchanges along Highways 99, 41, 168 and 180 in the city limits. But some council members signaled their desire to eliminate regulations that govern the distance between drive-thru businesses and keep the lanes, speaker boxes and lines of idling vehicles at least 100 feet from residential properties citywide.
The move came after Joe Guagliardo, representing fast-food behemoth McDonald’s, complained the Development Code adopted by the city in late 2015 stood in the way of the company’s plans to build another set of golden arches in Fresno. The proposed location at Fresno and C streets, one block west of Highway 99, would be the 23rd McDonald’s restaurant with drive-thru service in the city, according to the company’s store locator. A new Starbucks coffee house on Shaw Avenue near Highway 99 also faces constraints under the rules.
The area near the Fresno Street/Highway 99 interchange already has four fast-food franchises (Burger King, KFC, Wendy’s and Rally’s) with drive-thrus.
Under the current rules, new drive-thru lanes at businesses are not allowed within 400 feet of another drive-thru anywhere in the city – a rule intended to prevent congestion and overconcentration of drive-thrus along busy streets. The city’s planning staff proposed removing the 400-foot separation limit near freeways, but only if drivers entered the drive-thru lane from the main street serving the on- and off-ramps. Additionally, drive-thrus cannot be built within 100 feet of a residential-zoned property.
We’re not a city that’s trying to hide the fact that we’re on the move and we’re busy and we’re in a hurry.
Fresno City Council President Clint Olivier
“We do not think there’s any justification citywide for the requirement of the 400-foot separation,” Guagliardo told the City Council on Thursday. Guagliardo said the McDonald’s site at Fresno and C streets could not realistically take its drive-thru access from Fresno Street, as the proposed rule change still would require. The site also sits next to residential property, which would restrict the fast-food restaurant’s development.
Guagliardo asked the council to consider eliminating all location restrictions near the freeway interchanges – a change taken up by Councilman Steve Brandau and passed by a 6-1 vote. Council members Oliver Baines, Paul Caprioglio, Luis Chavez, Clint Olivier and Esmeralda Soria – whose District 1 includes the proposed Starbucks at Shaw and 99 – joined Brandau as “yes” votes.
Starbucks’ store locator shows the company has about 20 drive-thru locations in Fresno.
Councilman Garry Bredefeld, representing northeast Fresno, voted no over concern about removing the residential distance requirement. “If that’s removed, you can have a drive-thru abut someone’s backyard,” he said. “I can guarantee you that if we remove that 100-foot requirement, we will have a place full of people here when they try to put something in one of our districts … and we will have a major fight opposing a development.”
There can be noise and fumes and things associated with that.
Dan Zack, assistant Fresno city planning director, on drive-thrus
The Development Code specifies that drive-thrus are allowed in certain business zones of the city, as long as the owner or developer go through a permit process that imposes certain conditions on the operations. A conditional-use permit can be revoked if the business doesn’t follow the conditions of approval.
Drive-thrus at popular businesses can create congestion headaches within parking lots and, at times, on city streets. A Dutch Bros. coffee kiosk in a shopping center at Bullard and West avenues in northwest Fresno was cited by Brandau as a particular problem in which long lines of cars were sometimes strung out across the parking lot. That Dutch Bros. has since relocated to a shopping center across the street.
Similar issues of clogged parking arose at Blackstone and Nees avenues when burger chain In-N-Out opened in 2003 and were compounded when Chick-Fil-A opened its restaurant in 2008.
Dan Zack, the city’s assistant planning director, said the 100-foot separation of drive-thru lanes from residential property is intended “to keep the drive-thru from sitting next to somebody’s house. There can be noise and fumes and things associated with that.”
But Brandau and Olivier said they’d like to get rid of rules on where drive-thru businesses can locate on a citywide basis, not just near freeway ramps.
“I think (this is) an onerous prohibition on small businesses, especially on our busy streets like Blackstone and McKinley,” Olivier said. “This isn’t just fast-food we’re talking about.” Olivier said the limitations could hamper businesses like dry cleaners or pharmacies that want to have drive-thru lanes for the convenience of customers.
“Our constituents demand to have access, easy access to banks, dry cleaners, Starbucks and McDonald’s,” Olivier added. “We’re not a city that’s trying to hide the fact that we’re on the move and we’re busy and we’re in a hurry.”
The City Council vote also directed the city’s planning staff to present a workshop for members on the rest of the city’s drive-thru rules, at which time the council could take action to modify or lift the limitations on a citywide basis.
Too many or not enough?
The Fresno City Council has taken the first step toward removing restrictions on drive-through businesses within 1,000 feet of freeway on- and off-ramps, and could soon move to eliminate all restrictions on where they can be located citywide. A sample of Fresno’s busiest streets shows how concentrated existing drive-through businesses – fast-food, coffee houses, banks and pharmacies – are in some parts of the city.
Blackstone Avenue (Highway 41 to Divisadero Street)
Shaw Avenue (Highway 99 to Highway 168)
Highway 99 (Herndon Avenue to Central Avenue)