Considering a Drive-Through Ban in Minneapolis
Last year, before everyone was all frustrated about the Hennepin Avenue Walgreen's but after they were all frustrated about the Lake Street Wells Fargo, the City of Minneapolis started work on an ordinance change amending regulations on drive-throughs. We are now at the point where we will be doing something about them. Can't happen soon enough!
In about a year and a half on the Planning Commission, I've had to vote to approve six different drive-throughs across the city, and all six were bummers. But they were allowed by our current zoning, and you can't just vote for or against land use applications willy-nilly. There are lots of rules, but in general, new drive-throughs in Minneapolis are prohibited downtown and in our pedestrian-oriented overlay districts. They are allowed in a few different types of zoning, but most notably they're allowed in C2, which is pretty easy to find along any notable commercial street.
You can take a look-see at the staff report here, where the options are summarized as:
- Ban all new drive-through facilities citywide
- Further restrict the zoning districts in which drive-through facilities are allowed
- Allow drive-through facilities only if they are on the ground floor of a larger mixed-use development with a minimum development intensity and/or floor area ratio
- Develop more restrictive design standards for drive-through facilities where they are currently allowed, including limits on the number or total width of curb cuts, screening requirements and the like (this may also be combined with #2 above)
First off, it's important to remember what a "ban" means in this situation; existing drive-throughs would of course be grandfathered in. We don't have a count of exactly how many there are, but there are a whole lot of them around the city. Off the top of my head I would guess...something like 150? (I don't have a car!!! sorry!!!)
Second, it's important to separate the actual "drive-through" aspect of how a building works from the building itself. In the same way that we have a specific "fast food restaurant" use defined in Minneapolis' zoning code largely because of assumptions about what a fast food restaurant looks like, a lot of antipathy towards them probably comes from assumption that the building will be boring and a bad, low-density use of land. I think that was where most (though not all) of the public opposition to the Hennepin Avenue Walgreen's came from last year.
Third, that being said, the actual "drive-through" aspect of a building with a drive-through does have problems on its own, namely to pedestrians who have to contend with both the curb cuts and drivers--who are on their phones 95% of the time. But in a more abstract way, having lots of drive-throughs is also one of many things that makes a city more of a driving city and then, necessarily, less of a walking and biking and transit city.
While I would vote for it, I'm skeptical that we'll pass a total ban--staff noted that they haven't been able to find other cities who have done this--but it seems likely that we'll settle on further restricting which zoning districts they're allowed in, along with some built-form requirements for future drive-throughs. Some good things could be one or a combination of:
- Banning them outright in everything but C3S zoning, our big box district, which is only found in places like the Quarry or the mess with the Whole Foods on the west side of Lake Calhoun
- Requiring a fairly high floor area ratio, probably something like 2.5, which would basically require a larger mixed-use residential or office use on top of whatever the drive-through is supporting
- Instituting a maximum combined width of all the curb cuts on the site, maybe like 20 feet
- Only allowing them on corner lots, so the curb cuts are at least spread out
The CVS at Nicollet & Franklin has been cited a number of times as an example of a building that people generally seem to be okay with. It's not perfect, particularly the large curb cuts. Instituting some of the built-form requirements above would force a developer to layout the site a bit differently, probably putting the drive-through for the CVS in the parking garage, or something.
I will gently point out that while we discuss the politics of making it a little harder to drive a car in Minneapolis, a chunk of ice larger than Delaware is about to cleave off of the Antarctic Peninsula. So it is good that we continue to work on things like this, making our city a little more walkable, a little safer, and a little greener.