First published in the Oct. 1 print issue of the Glendale News-Press.
The City Council this week imposed a temporary moratorium on new drive-thru lanes being permitted while planning staffers work on updating building codes to restrict their use to less dense areas in Glendale.
The measure, which comes via urgency ordinance, lasts for 45 days, after which a public hearing would be required in order to extend it up to 10 months and 15 days. This will likely come to pass, as city officials indicated it would almost certainly take longer than 45 days for there to be any movement on updated codes.
The full council approved the urgency ordinance on Tuesday save for Ara Najarian, who recused himself from the item because he owns stock in Starbucks, which currently has a business permit in the pipeline that includes construction of a drive-thru. The moratorium includes any application still in the pipeline, per the council’s direction.
The moratorium comes as the council and other city officials are strongly rethinking the place of the drive-thru in an era where they are re-envisioning more pedestrian-friendly commercial and mixed-use zones in Glendale, especially as they are also promoting density housing initiatives. Pragmatically, drive-thrus invite vehicular traffic into a particular area, which increases the chances of collisions and adversely affects the environment and air quality because of exhaust.
One potential outcome here is that a conditional use permit would be required to install a new one, meaning that the Design Review Board, Planning Commission or, potentially, the council would have greater discretion to impose requirements in exchange for allowing a drive-thru.
“I do believe we have no shortage of drive-thrus in this city,” Mayor Ardy Kassakhian said. “To the people who called said during the pandemic they needed drive-thrus or they served a purpose, sure, they did, but they also had a significant impact on the neighborhoods where they were located.”
According to the city, five restaurants have submitted proposals involving drive-thrus, four of which concerned existing fast-food sites with new operators and the fifth being a new location. Other vendors have expressed potentially adding drive-thrus, the staff report indicated.
Public commenters on the item were generally in favor of the moratorium and with future restrictions on the amenity, though to varying degrees — some were aggressively against them, while others said they should be placed in less dense neighborhoods. One resident indicated he used a wheelchair and that a drive-thru is often the best option for those with mobility impairments.
To that end, Councilwoman Paula Devine said she hoped to “sharpen the code” on drive-thrus in hopes of making them placed more thoughtfully.
“I think it’s a service to the community members to have drive-thrus,” she said. “I know that a lot of people use them on their lunch hours, or to get food for dinner with their kids if someone in the family is sick or incapacitated.”
At present, Glendale’s code requires a drive-thru to have at least 60 feet of length from the start of the queue to where the motorist first interacts with an employee, with the maximum for restaurants being 200 feet. However, with compact lots and general demand, drive-thru lines have often obstructed traffic circulation in their parking lots and many times reach hazardously into streets — and in doing so, also obstruct sidewalks and driveway aprons.
Kassakhian preemptively pushed back against the notion that a drive-thru is a necessity for a restaurant in today’s age.
“We have two In-N-Outs, one with a drive-thru, one without. Both are doing just fine,” he said. “We also have a Chick-fil-A in Glendale. Most Chick-fil-As have a drive-thru that goes around the block. Ours doesn’t in Glendale. It seems to be doing just fine. There is a way to have a successful business without having to have an impact with automobiles in neighborhoods pouring into the adjacent street.”