Rebuilding Place in the Urban Space

"A community’s physical form, rather than its land uses, is its most intrinsic and enduring characteristic." [Katz, EPA] This blog focuses on place and placemaking and all that makes it work--historic preservation, urban design, transportation, asset-based community development, arts & cultural development, commercial district revitalization, tourism & destination development, and quality of life advocacy--along with doses of civic engagement and good governance watchdogging.

Tuesday, April 16, 2024

Drive ins are negative contributors to community

Salt Lake.  A few months ago, Salt Lake City banned more drive ins on 2100 South in the Sugar House business district ("City council looks to transform single-family zoning across the city; bans Sugar House business district drive-thrus," Building Salt Lake., "One SLC neighborhood backs drive-thru ban as it transforms into ‘model walkable, transit-connected community’," Salt Lake Tribune).  That's pretty close to us, and Sugar House is where Sugar House Park is, where I'm on the board.

Needless to say, the local business advocacy group didn't agree.  But they did make a good point, that in times like covid, being able to do drive through/pick up helped them survive.

Between 900 and 1300 is the main district, although there is redevelopment and strip shopping and a couple extant older buildings between 700 and 900.  There was an ice cream manufacturing plant, now slated for housing.

There are a couple shopping centers, a Smith's (Kroger) and a Natural Grocers, some extant liner retail on 2100 South, and some new buildings with decent restaurants on the ground floor.  There is some perpendicular retail on side streets, but it tends to not do so well unless it's destination.

But overall since the region's development paradigm is sprawl, drive ins are huge.  Suzanne is into them.  I'm not.  But we do succumb.

(Rachel Rydalch | The Salt Lake Tribune) The Chick-fil-A on 2100 South in Sugar House has historically generated a long drive-thru line, Tuesday, March 8, 2022. A proposal before the City Council would ban new drive-thrus from opening in dense commercial areas of the neighborhood.

On 2100 South is a Chick Fil A (terrible, expensive food) which tends to block traffic.  2100 South is pretty narrow, two narrow lanes in each direction.  So this is a problem.  It's likely what generated the call for action.

The other drive throughs (CVS, Walgreens, McDonald's, Cafe Rio--terrible food, ate there once, never again, a couple banks) are able to provide enough queuing capacity on site to accommodate use.  Although CFA did redo their access pattern and it did reduce traffic.

OTOH, 1300 East and 700 East are major roads abutting the district, and they are set up for drive throughs in a way that 2100 South isn't.

DC.  In DC, drive throughs aren't allowed in C2 commercial districts, those are the ones that abut rowhouse residential districts. Gas stations require a special exception review.  Drive throughs and gas stations are matter of right in C3 districts.  

One such district abuts H Street NE ("H Street NE nightlife district, failing?," "A follow up on the H Street article: Learning from Philadelphia | More sophisticated daypart, retail, cultural, and experience planning," "The community development approach and the revitalization of DC's H Street corridor: congruent or oppositional approaches?," 2013, and "DC and streetcars #4: from the standpoint of stoking real estate development, the line is incredibly successful and it isn't even in service yet, and now that development is extending eastward past 15th Street," 2015) and when we were addressing zoning issues 20ish years ago, we weren't sophisticated enough to try to downzone the 1400 block and adjoining block on Maryland C2.  At the time there was a Sonic on Maryland Avenue.

It's since been replaced with a Chick Fil A, and on the other side a gas station came in ("360 Apartment building + Giant Supermarket vs. a BP gas station, which would you choose?" 2013) it was during the time of the Fenty Administration and they had zero interest in or knowledge of place values in communities.  

Like a lot of administrations, to them any development was good development.  (Like for Walmart a few years later, "Walmart to close one of its three DC stores.")

Article states that drive throughs are negative contributors to community ("Mega drive-throughs explain everything wrong with American cities," Vox).  They are probably "fine" in terms of "the economy," although drive throughs tend to be chains, and chains contribute less to the local economy than independently owned locally based stores.

There's no question they don't contribute to community, they cause environmental issues (exhausst, poor use of space), they puncture the street plane and make it difficult for walking.

Maria Zivarts on Twitter makes a good point about the difference between a coffee shop that is a drive through serving 20 cars versus a walk up shop serving 20 people.  Not to mention the locally owned store likely contributes to the community in ways that a chain store doesn't.

Last week for the first time I went to Loki Coffee on 900 South ("A Utah couple open a cafe, aiming for ‘a West Coast vibe and East Coast efficiency’," Salt Lake Tribune).  Of course, most of the tables were used by people on their computers.  But it was a great vibe.  

There were people sitting out front--they need tables and chairs and a patio.  The block is an odd one for retail in that the buildings are all detached, and the road is wide.  OTOH, a lot of the lots have a big front yard and the buildings are attractive and it's in the center city with higher population density.

Loki Coffee.  Photo: Bethany Baker, Salt Lake Tribune.

I think Loki Coffee has a wide range of events scheduled for April.
Something you won't find in a drive through/chain establishment.

Zoning changes to protect place value,  Making neighborhood abutting commercial districts off limits to drive throughs is a good start.  Directing drive throughs to places where the land use context better supports them is an acceptable compromise.  At the very least require review.  It could be there are some instances depending on the size of the lot, queuing capacity, and type of business, where a drive through is less obtrusive, like a pharmacy.

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At 4:15 PM, Blogger Richard Layman said...

Hungry (but Not for Human Contact), Americans Head for the Drive-Through
A national fixture is enjoying a fresh surge as post-pandemic customers crave speed and solitude. And restaurants are responding with a raft of innovations.


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