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Drive-Through Ban Gets Positive Reception at Minneapolis Planning Commission

20160430 184626

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.”