Developers not lovin

The commercial development community is not lovin’ Mesa Planning Divison’s proposed changes to the zoning rules for drive-thru restaurants, and they’d rather have them their way.

Roughly 60 people logged in for an online community meeting on Sept. 21 to discuss the proposed new rules, which are aimed at preventing clustering of drive-thru restaurants and giving residents opportunities to weigh in when the fast food eateries are proposed near their homes.

Virtually all the attendees who asked questions or made comments were involved in the restaurant industry – as property managers, developers or franchisees – and all had concerns about the proposed changes to drive thru zoning rules.

They worried that restrictions could make some commercial properties harder to develop and keep some franchises from moving to Mesa.

Some properties, if they couldn’t house a drive thru, might stay empty or find a less desirable tenant, like a check cashing business, they said.

They emphasized the importance of drive thrus to the quick service restaurant industry even as the pandemic has waned and the quick-service landscape and consumer patterns have shifted.

They told the city staff in the meeting they’d rather see drive thru impacts managed through tweaks to design standards rather than limits to the number of eateries allowed in certain areas.

Assistant Planning Director Rachel Prelog said the city drafted the changes at the request of City Council members and in response to community feedback.

She said drive thrus are increasingly saturating new site plans, and showed as an example a plan for a commercial center with six drive thrus lining the street side of the development.

Extra cuts in sidewalks along the roadway for drive thrus create greater danger for pedestrians, Prelog said, and neighbors have complained of noise and other impacts from cars idling in busy drive thru lines.

Earlier this year, District 6 Councilman Kevin Thompson said during a council discussion that he and other residents were frustrated that their requests for higher quality dining options in commercial centers have gone unheeded by developers.

He also said he was concerned that Mesa was becoming a “city of fast food” with the proliferation of drive thrus.

Prelog said the city developed its recommended zoning changes by studying research on drive-thrus and looking at how they are managed in neighboring cities as well as large cities nationally.

The proposed changes would allow only two drive thrus per intersection or commercial center.  Drive up windows that are less susceptible to “stacking” than drive thru restaurants, like banks and pharmacies, would not be counted as “drive thrus” in the tally, she said.

No more than two drive thrus could be adjacent to each other. A third drive thru must be 750 feet away from the two adjacent drive thrus.

New drive thrus proposed in Limited Commercial zones would require a special use permit, which would give residents an opportunity to weigh in at a public hearing.

Prelog said these changes weren’t set in stone yet, and the city would consider the feedback they received during this and an in-person meeting at the council chambers on 1st Street at 5 p.m. Tuesday, Sept. 27.

The industry insiders in attendance had plenty of feedback and suggestions for city administrators.

“Please keep in mind that the cap of two (drive thrus) per group commercial center does not take into account various sizes of group commercial centers,” attorney Reese Anderson wrote in the chat. “There is a huge difference between a 5-acre, 10-acre, 20-acre and 30-acre commercial project.”

One retail developer said that many of her clients are worried about public hearings for drive thrus, fearing that the public input and decisions would be made based on preferences for certain types of food and restaurant chains rather than objective criteria.

“That’s a big concern we all have with this going forward – and the additional hoops to jump through to get the drive thru,” she said.

Several people said the restaurant business is evolving rapidly, and drive thrus are an increasingly necessary service.

“My group is the franchisee for a national (quick service restaurant). Our ‘Brand’ will NOT approve a site without an approved drive thru. It would stop all growth for our group in Mesa,” a local director of real estate wrote.

“Everybody wants convenience,” a developer said, “and we’re gonna see a greater demand (for drive thrus) than ever. I mean, even the likes of Panera. … It used to be a sit down restaurant. It’s now a drive thru. Everybody’s going that direction.”

In some cases, Prelog addressed concerns by pointing to current options available to developers, such as development incentives and permits for design modifications for challenging lots.

Many reactions to the proposed limits on drive thrus expressed the idea that consumers are voting for more them by their behaviors, and fighting against consumer desires would be bad for the city and bad for businesses.

One developer said there have been cases where drive thrus have helped inject life into struggling shopping centers.

There wasn’t much concern about walkability, with multiple commenters suggesting that the majority of residents simply don’t care about the issue and would rather have access to drive thrus.

“I think the danger and inconvenience of any pedestrian with the location of a drive thru are simply not as valued by the public at large as the ease and convenience of the 2022 business model of ordering online, pulling in or driving thru,” one developer wrote in comments.

The discussion between the industry players and city staff remained cordial, with attendees thanking city staff for the presentation and listening to concerns.

Prelog said the city was planning to finalize the rule changes and send them to the planning and zoning board and city council this winter.

Members of the public who have questions or would like to weigh in can attend the second public meeting Sept. 17 in City Council Chambers.

Staff will also be providing information on updates to the Mesa Al Fresco program that streamlined outdoor dining applications during the pandemic, and plans to expand the temporary use permit system.

(2) comments

downtownresident

I agree with Ridgeview Resident that the city is all in for development and to the devil with current, long time residents. (46 years for me) Their lust for development far outweighs their concern for the rest of us.

We're told there is a water shortage and for us to conserve water, while approving developments that will take billions of gallons of water that we DO NOT HAVE. It's no longer the city council, it the developers council, bought and paid for by developers, not "We the People."

Ridgeview Resident

Welcome to our world, City Council! In our neighborhood, our future is "Fast-food" right across the street, and a lot of them, with all those desirable traits that come with them: Food smells (24/7,) noise from squawk-boxes all hours of the day and night ... and TRAFFIC!, TRAFFIC! and more TRAFFIC!. I particularly enjoyed and found ironic the comment, "Some properties, if they couldn’t house a drive thru, might stay empty or find a less desirable tenant, like a check cashing business, they said."

Council Member David Luna, Planning & Zoning's Timothy Boyle and a facilitator (tax-payer funded) they used against us, all made these same veiled "threats" against the community of Ridgeview recently when we opposed "Ascend at Longbow" development.

If this is the best the city, developers and land use attorneys came come up with, then don't build it. Sorry Ms. Prelog, this is bad planning, PERIOD! The percentages never added up, commercial to residential, and flies in the face of the 2040 General Plan. Maybe, if these numbers had been heeded in the first place, the City of Mesa wouldn't be having these problems now. Instead, we have a city government that cow-tows to every developer's whim, excepts blindly the BS numbers land use attorneys use to push their proposals through a most compliant Planning & Zoning department. There's nothing to stop them. Residents are steam-rolled by the zoning process, which is designed to wear down and marginalize any local opposition from residents. And you are shocked to find that Mesa's residents are pissed off at the end result? Truely tone deaf.

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