Drive-Through Ban Gets Positive Reception at Minneapolis Planning Commission

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On Thursday, the Minneapolis Planning Commission was supportive of a proposed ordinance from Council President Lisa Bender that would prohibit new drive-throughs for banks, drugstores, and fast food restaurants (or any other “facility which accommodates automobiles and from which the occupants of the automobiles may make purchases or transact business”).

It’s important to emphasize: if you like your current drive-through options, you can keep them — this would only apply to new construction.

Drive-throughs have been a frequent topic of concern for Minneapolis policymakers in recent years. Planning Commissioner Sam Rockwell, speaking against a proposed McDonald’s drive-through expansion last year, said that achieving city goals for reducing greenhouse gas emissions means that “we need to stop investing in car infrastructure.” Drive-throughs are also known for contributing to dangerous, car-centric environments for people on foot.

When reached for comment via tweet, Bender said “We started working on this three years ago or so because of community opposition to new drive-throughs in several locations.”

In 2016, plans for a new Walgreens on a pedestrian-heavy stretch of Hennepin Avenue near Uptown prompted local outcry and the strengthening of rules intended to promote safe, walkable environments. A pedestrian overlay expansion eventually banned drive-throughs in that location, but it was too late to prevent Walgreens from building one.

At Thursday’s meeting, Minneapolis city planner Mei-Ling Smith pointed to the fact that currently only 6 of 23 Minneapolis zoning districts allow new drive-throughs. Four commissioners spoke in support of the change, none against. The commission will vote on the ban at their next meeting, and will ultimately need to be approved by the City Council.

Commissioner Matt Brown said the issue sounds more controversial than it should be, because the city doesn’t actually build very many new drive-throughs. And when they are built, people in the area aren’t excited about them.

Commissioner Alissa Luepke-Pier said the change was more about the future than today: “This sounds dramatic but I doubt people will notice a difference in the streetscape for the next 20 years.”

Rockwell, who is the city’s most prominent foe of drive-through banking, said in 2015 it’d be no big loss for drive-through fans if Wells Fargo didn’t build another one in Uptown (in the end, they did build it):

“We’ve got a Wells Fargo with many, many drive-through lanes about a mile away at, incidentally another very high-frequency transit intersection, right by Nicollet and Lake Street. So those desperate for a drive-through can scoot up Lake Street a little bit.”

According to the planning department staff report: “While a prohibition on new drive-through facilities can be supported using existing comprehensive plan policies, pending policies provide an even more explicit basis for adopting such a regulation.”

The soon-to-be official Minneapolis 2040 comprehensive plan includes language “prohibiting the establishment of new drive-throughs and gas stations.”

17 thoughts on “Drive-Through Ban Gets Positive Reception at Minneapolis Planning Commission

  1. Elizabeth Larey

    Please think about people that can’t walk there, and can’t get out of their car. There are a lot of us. Thank you

    1. Karl

      Elizabeth, since all existing drive-thru locations will be grandfathered in, are there locations in Minneapolis that at present don’t have them you would like to see add them?

      1. Monte Castleman

        Would this apply to razing and rebuilding at the same location? If no, then you have a point, although I’m not convinced there’s enough drive-thru coffee shops in the cities yet for the market, considering the intense demand that’s been documented over at Snelby in St. Paul.

        If it would apply to rebuilding, then remember that this is a de-facto ban on existing locations since buildings don’t last forever. Fast food locations often only last a few decades before they need to be rebuilt to be more efficient or due to corporate demands for refreshing the brand.

        1. Brian

          I expect corporate might make an exception to rebuilding a fast food restaurant if the restaurant would lose the ability to have a drive thru. I have heard that about 70% of sales are through the drive thru at the average fast food restaurant. There are lots of ways to remodel a building that don’t involve tearing it down although the tear down and rebuild is probably fastest.

          I was at a strip mall yesterday and the line for the coffee shop drive thru was blocking the entrance to the strip mall. This was in the middle of the afternoon!

          I always go inside to buy fast food on the rare times I have it. A few years back I went through a drive thru because staff forgot to unlock the doors to the dining room.

          1. Monte Castleman

            I have a feeling the drive-thru market for fast food is more or less saturated, at least in currently built up areas, but there’s a lot of new opportunities for coffee drive-thrus, as that phenomenon hasn’t been with us nearly as long as one for fast food. Besides the frequently cited examples of long lines at the ones in the cities, there’s not one a single one anywhere in eastern Bloomington, (which is probably just as well because I’d be spending a lot of my money there if that were the case).

            If even half of the 70% decide “forget it” rather than park and go in to get food, that’s still a 35% drop in business, enough to put most restaurants out of business. Remodeling of fast food places does happen, and having a lot of aging fast food places in the city would be a logical consequence so they don’t loose their drive-thru. Sometimes you can appease corporate with a new veneer on the outside and some new tables to go with their look of the day, but you’d still have old plumbing and an energy inefficient shell. Keeping that would be better than scraping the site and getting an energy efficient building but losing 1/3rd of their business.

        2. Sean Hayford OlearySean Hayford Oleary

          If it’s governed like any other nonconforming status, you should be able to rebuild the building and keep the nonconforming item, as long as you aren’t increasing the degree of nonconformance.

          For example, if you had a McDonald’s with a drive-thru, you could rebuild a substantially similar one, but you couldn’t use the chance to make it a double drive thru, or move the drive aisle closer to the street, or whatever.

          However, it’s not like “cap and trade” or something. If something else gets built on the site of a drive-thru (say an apartment replaces a McDonalds) that drive-thru is gone for good, and can’t be done somewhere else.

          I’d expect this would have the affect of owners wanting to more deliberately preserve the drive-thrus already in existence. But over time, many will still get eliminated through normal redevelopment cycle.

          1. Brian

            In some cities a non-conforming structure that is more than 50% damaged cannot be rebuilt unless brought into conformity. I don’t know how this would apply to drive thrus.

            I expect the city would want rid of existing drive thrus.

  2. Andrew Evans

    This all seems silly and a way for city officials to get their names either in the limelight for their constituents or to be made fun of by everyone else. I don’t talk with enough left leaning friends to know how it went over with them, but for a lot of us it seems like a waste of time and effort.

    That said, and as pointed out in the article, there aren’t that many places that would be viable for a drivethrough. So it’s really a lot of talk about nothing, or what would be only a handful of new ones. Which is why I said above that it’s more or less grandstanding for the sake of seeing their names in articles and the city in the news.

    1. Adam MillerAdam Miller

      Well, there’s a brand new drive through on the 4700 block of Cedar (on the same block as another coffee drive through) and one for a pharmacy on Hennepin in Uptown that’s only a couple of years old (which is the proposal that brought this up in the first place).

      It doesn’t come up all that much, so it won’t be much of a change, but it does sometimes and current policy doesn’t let the city say no, so, yeah, it is needed.

    2. Scott Merth

      Every drop in the bucket counts, even small ones. I for one am glad this issue is getting attention. Like you mentioned, this is a small, easy issue to deal with, so let’s just check it off the list and be done with it!

  3. Allen

    Drive-throughs are also known for contributing to dangerous, car-centric environments for people on foot.

    Drive thru allow people to remain safely in their car and quickly conduct a transaction. They allow for less need for parking. They’re a god send for everyone in the winter and all year around for those of us who don’t move well.

    1. Adam MillerAdam Miller

      Citation needed for the parking claim (ie, almost certainly untrue).

      Do you not move well? Do you really think they are there for you, in which case why aren’t they limited to those with mobility challenges, or are they for others who can’t be bothered to care who is walking or rolling along the sidewalk? What do you think about someone who got off the bus at the corner and has to roll past the drive through curb cut to get what they need?

      1. Monte Castleman

        It would seem to make sense to me. Obviously a lot of economic activity isn’t going to happen without a drive-thru, but a non-zero number of people will decide they really want that latte bad enough to go through the extra time, hassle and discomfort of going inside, so those people will need additional places to park.

      2. Allen

        Mr. Miller, look at the railroad industry as an example. They’ve been tearing up yards left and right as they’ve done a better job of keeping the cars moving. It takes a lot less space to serve people if you keep them moving rather than dwell. The more the dwell time, the more space need to store the car.

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