Goochland County planning commissioners voted unanimously (4-0 with Matt Brewer, District 2 absent) to recommend denial of a conditional use permit for a Dunkin' Donuts drive through window in the Courthouse Commons shopping center at their May 4 meeting.
The Commissioners, who expressed enthusiasm for having a Dunkin' Donuts in the Courthouse Village area, could not get comfortable with the traffic pattern for the proposed drive through in a relatively narrow space on the west side of the strip shopping center that divides it from the Essex Bank property.
As proposed, traffic lanes for the drive through window would loop around the end of the building creating storage lanes for people waiting for their orders. However, those same lanes would be used by large trucks making deliveries to loading docks at the back of the shopping center that serve the other businesses there.
A similar proposal made in 2011 by Big Cheese Pizza, former occupant of the same space in the shopping center, was withdrawn before getting to the Planning Commission for essentially the same reasons.
Applicant Luis Cabral contended that the drive through lanes, which would be identified by pavement markings rather than curbing, would be sufficient to handle peak traffic, which he estimated to be between 7 and 9 a.m.
He also contended that deliveries made by large trucks to other tenants could be scheduled to occur during off peak times to lessen the possibility of simultaneous use of the traffic lanes by tractor trailers and drive through customers. Cabral said that Food Lion and Dollar General, the two large tenants in the shopping center, receive only a handful of tractor trailer deliveries per week combined.
The direction of truck traffic behind the shopping center was also a concern. Cabral seemed to indicate that trucks would enter on the west side, essentially through the drive through lanes, unload their cargo behind the shopping center and continue on to exit on the east side of the center, but that is not guaranteed. He said that Dunkin' Donuts expects to receive two tractor trailer deliveries per week that would block access for other tenants behind the shopping center for about ten minutes and would take place before those businesses open for the day.
“I don’t like it,” said Derek Murray, District 3. “I understand the need for a drive through and would like to have it, but I am concerned that something could go wrong.”
John Myers, District 1 said he could live with the proposal if it mandated one way traffic behind the building to prevent trucks from turning around after making deliveries and exiting via the drive through lanes.
John Shelhorse, District 4, said that Dunkin' Donuts is a good commercial enterprise and he hopes the applicant can modify his proposal so it can work.
Commission Chair Tom Rockecharlie, District 5, said that Dunkin' Donuts would be a good asset to the area, but people do not always pay attention to signs and pavement marking and infringe on other people’s right of way.
Having been acted upon by the Planning Commission, the application will now proceed to the Board of Supervisors for a final vote. In the interim, Cabral could revise his plan to make it more palatable from a safety standpoint.
In a companion matter, the Commissioners addressed a proposed ordinance amendment to make drive through businesses a by right use in areas zoned B-1; M-1, which includes West Creek; and M-2. A CUP for drive through businesses will still be required in the more restrictive B-2 zoning district.
According to Principal Planner Tom Coleman, the ordinance change is intended to rectify what has been perceived as an unfair distinction between types of businesses permitted by right in areas zoned for business. “It does not seem fair to make a drive through restaurant go to the Supervisors for permission to build when a sit down restaurant is allowed by right. Drive throughs are appropriate in commercial area, this clarifies and simplifies the process.”
The proposed ordinance contains design standards for drive aisles, stacking lanes, and pedestrian crossings as safety measures.
After a bit of discussion, the Commissioners sent the proposed revision back to the drawing board. They asked Assistant County Attorney Whitney Marshall to draft revised language differentiating between drive though businesses built from scratch on a contiguous parcel from those that are “retrofitted” where drive through lanes could impinge on nearby businesses.
The Centerville McDonald’s, for instance, which occupies its own parcel and configured drive through lanes, parking, and pedestrian access accordingly is an example of the kind of entity that would be by right in the new ordinance. A retrofit situation like the like the proposed Dunkin' Donuts, whose drive through lanes could interfere with its neighbors, would get more scrutiny. The Commissioners voted to defer that matter to their July 13 meeting.
This change will probably pave the way for additional drive throughs in the county. Curiously, with the exception of a drive through window at Walgreens on Pouncey Tract Road and a drive through Dunkin' Donuts in the Shell station opposite Short Pump Town Center, there are no drive throughs on Broad Street between the Taco Bell near Wal-Mart and the Centerville McDonald’s.