La Cañada considers zoning for drive-thrus

La Cañada Flintridge City Council members wrestled Monday with how they might allow businesses to offer drive-thru services to convenience drivers without diminishing the walkability of the city’s Town Center.

After a debate over the impact drive-thrus could have on traffic congestion in areas zoned to be pedestrian-friendly, the Council directed city staff in a 3-2 vote to draft an ordinance to develop criteria under which they might be built.

Councilwoman Laura Olhasso said she supports the idea of businesses wanting to improve their offerings to customers, but believes drive-thrus fly in the face of long-range planning and design guidelines set forth in the city’s 2000 Downtown Village Specific Plan.

“This was a pedestrian-oriented area, and we knew there were existing drive-thrus that were grandfathered in, and we didn’t want any more,” Olhasso said. “I don’t believe that we are on strong footing that (an ordinance) meets the vision the community wants for our town. Put it to bed and quit wasting the time on it.”

Councilman Dave Spence said he’d prefer the Council weigh individual proposals for drive-thrus, rather than adopting an ordinance that would potentially allow multiple projects, and take the community’s pulse on the matter.

But Mayor Pro Tem Don Voss said he believes the city can gracefully draft an ordinance so that it would have regulations to guide the acceptance of worthy proposals in the future without harming the ambience of the town.

Voss said he’d also like to add a stipulation that any allowable drive-thrus be ancillary to the functioning of the business, and not a mainstay that could lead to traffic congestion.
“I think that would be a way to raise the bar to a high standard,” he said.

The most recent round of discussions began in 2012, when Bill Koury, owner of the Shell gas station on Angeles Crest Highway, requested to add a drive-thru coffee shop on his property and was told the zoning ordinance pertaining to that part of town did not allow for drive-thrus.

Since then, the matter has been considered by the Council and the city’s Planning and Design commissions. An ad hoc committee, seated by members from all three panels, was created to further investigate the possibility of allowing drive-thrus under certain strict conditions.

Mayor Mike Davitt and Councilman Jon Curtis — who both sat on the ad hoc committee — said they understand the benefits and the drawbacks of allowing more businesses to offer drive-thru services.

“I’m not sure there’s an answer that fits all,” Curtis said. “I’d like send it back to the Planning Commission and see if there could be some standards in some limited areas.”

Senior planner Fred Buss recommended the Council consider other areas of town where the ordinance might apply, such as the Community Planned Development zone west of the city center, instead of pinpointing a single area.

“If you want to move ahead with an ordinance, you might want to look at more than the Downtown Village Specific Plan,” Buss said. “I’m very concerned at an ordinance that is so restrictive it leaves only one area available.”

Council directed staff to further investigate drafting a comprehensive ordinance that could be floated by the Planning Commission and the Public Works and Traffic Commission for the purpose of moving the ordinance forward.

“This has obviously been dragging for quite some time,” Davitt said. “I would like to take it to that (next) step.”

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