Drive-Through Window Proposal Draws Opposition
A regulatory proposal by the Planning & Zoning Commission (P&Z) to allow drive-through window service at eateries and shopping centers has drawn opposition from residents speaking at a P&Z public hearing.
The P&Z held its second public hearing on the zoning rules proposal on September 6. It held an initial hearing on August 2.
Currently, the P&Z allows drive-through windows at banks and pharmacies, but not at eateries. The only exceptions to that prohibition are at 75 Church Hill Road, where developer Sunrise Church Hill Road LLC is constructing a 12,170-square-foot retail center that will include a Starbucks Coffee shop with a drive-through window, and at Botsford Drive-In at 282 South Main Street, where that eatery’s drive-through window was in operation before town zoning went into effect in 1958, and thus is allowed to continue. The site at 75 Church Hill Road is near Exit 10 of Interstate 84.
The regulatory proposal under review by the P&Z would broaden the zoning rules on drive-throughs to allow them at eateries at shopping centers, provided that access to those centers is controlled by a traffic signal.
By definition, “shopping centers” must occupy sites of at least ten acres. Three locations in town currently meet the P&Z’s definition of “shopping center.” They are Sand Hill Plaza at 228 South Main Street, Plaza South at 266-276 South Main Street, and Waterfall Plaza at 255 South Main Street. Waterfall Plaza’s access, however, is not controlled by a traffic signal.
At the September 6 P&Z hearing, George Benson, town director of planning, said the proposed zoning rules are based on the drive-through rules that the P&Z approved in 2016 for the Starbucks Coffee drive-through, which is now under construction.
“This is going to be an ongoing discussion,” Mr Benson said of the rules proposal. Because the P&Z initiated the proposal, the normal deadlines for discussion and P&Z action are not in effect.
Mr Benson said such zoning rules would need to limit the number of drive-throughs allowed at a given shopping center and also require that such drive-throughs be positioned at the rear or sides of buildings.
P&Z Chairman Don Mitchell said that the P&Z has long considered the topic of allowing drive-throughs at eateries. Issues that have arisen in the past include the lines of traffic that form waiting for window service, littering, the noise that such development creates, and presence of exhaust fumes emitted from vehicles idling while in line, he added.
Any drive-throughs within shopping centers should be entered by vehicles within those shopping centers, not by vehicles entering drive-throughs directly from adjacent streets, he said. Locally, shopping centers are generally located far from residential areas, he noted.
Any drive-throughs that would be approved by the P&Z would be subject to its special permit review process, Mr Benson said. That process requires that the applicant provide much more detail on a project than normally required.
Mr Benson stressed that the town land use agency currently has no specific proposal from an applicant for a drive-through at a shopping center.
“There’s no rush to do this,” he said of the pending proposal to create zoning regulations, though through such regulations, the town is trying to find ways to aid shopping centers that have encountered difficult business conditions.
P&Z member Corinne Cox asked how passers-by would know about the presence of a drive-through for an eatery within a shopping center. New signs would advertise the business’s presence, Mr Benson responded. Such signage would be subject to the special permit process, he added.
“I’m just concerned about the ‘character’ of Newtown,” Ms Cox said in terms of allowing more drive-throughs locally.
In response, Mr Benson said, “We’re talking about shopping centers. It’s not the epitome of Colonial Newtown.”
Wayne Addessi of Lovells Lane, who said he has lived in Newtown since 1992, said he has watched commercial sprawl occur across town since then.
Mr Addessi said drive-throughs at eateries would provide a service to the community. He suggested that the P&Z individually consider any specific proposal for such a use, “rather than a blanket approach” through the mechanism of zoning regulations.
Mr Addessi pointed out that additional commercial development means additional traffic problems.
Sherry Bermingham of Main Street said, “I really don’t think the drive-through is particularly beneficial to Newtown.” Building drive-throughs in town would result in Newtown becoming more like the adjacent Monroe, she said.
All types of drive-throughs exist in nearby towns for use by Newtown residents, Ms Bermingham said.
“Newtown has become a food destination,” Ms Bermingham said of the many restaurants located in town. “I don’t think having a fast-food restaurant is particularly beneficial to the town,” she added.
Robert Geckle of Queen Street said having drive-throughs locally would contradict the goals of the 2014 Town Plan of Conservation and Development. He added he is not sure that the P&Z should be in the business of ‘saving’ shopping centers by creating zoning regulations that would allow drive-throughs at shopping centers. “I oppose drive-throughs,” he told P&Z members.
John Madzula of The Boulevard said that if zoning regulations on drive-throughs for eateries are created, then “the arches” would locate here, in an apparent reference to a McDonald’s fast-food restaurant.
“We have lost the character of this town... We really have,” he said. “I’ve seen a lot of changes in 40 years, and not for the better,” he said. “A lot of us would still like to keep this (town) as rural as we can... It’s gotten out of control,” he said. Mr Madzula is the longtime chairman of the Borough Zoning Board of Appeals.
One man opposed to allowing drive-throughs at eateries said doing so would not provide any advantage to the town. Besides the traffic that would form in lines waiting for service at drive-through windows, those eateries generate commercial truck traffic with their food deliveries, he said.
A Hawleyville woman who said she has lived here for 30 years said Newtown should seek to preserve its rural character, adding that the presence drive-throughs would result in littering problems. She asked why the P&Z should have zoning regulations that would create more competition for established local restaurants.
Janet McKeown of 10 Hillcrest Drive said she opposes allowing more drive-through because it is not consistent with the town’s character. The extensive development that has occurred in Hawleyville has not been beneficial, she said. Hillcrest Drive is next to Covered Bridge at Newtown, a 180-unit rental apartment complex now under construction.
Not everyone speaking at the public hearing had a negative view of allowing drive-throughs at eateries.
Bryan Atherton of Black Walnut Drive, of Northeast Investment Realty in Shelton, said he would “take off his real estate hat” to comment on the regulatory proposal. Mr Atherton is involved in the new retail complex being constructed at 75 Church Hill Road.
Land near Exit 10 and Exit 9 of I-84 will be developed, he stressed. Drive-through window service at eateries would benefit the town, he said.
“People want it when they want it, this second... instant gratification,” he said of the public desire for drive-throughs.
“I want to commend the commission for going down a progressive path,” Mr Atherton said. He suggested that drive-throughs be allowed at eateries at commercial sites that have a minimum three-acre lot size.
At its initial public hearing on the proposed drive-through regulations on August 2, P&Z members heard from Heidi Winslow, a former P&Z vice chairman, who warned against allowing such development.
Having such zoning rules in place would create a regulatory mechanism through which applicants could seek special zoning permits for specific projects.
P&Z members agreed on September 6 that the public hearing on the proposed drive-through zoning rules would resume on October 4.
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