London’s fast-food fuss

London’s fast-food fuss

Sun, June 22, 2008

COVER STORY: The debate rages about whether restricting drive-throughs will help the environment or just hinder parents and the disabled

By PAIGE AARHUS

Fast food hasn’t caused such a fuss in London since McDonald’s opened its first eastern Canadian outlet here decades ago.

The city’s drive-through debate ramped up last week after a packed public meeting about a city hall move to restrict drive-throughs was called off and an industry campaign to stop that move hit the streets.

Now, Londoners are chewing over a city staff proposal to limit where drive-throughs can be built.

And it seems some people don’t want the city messing with their Mickey Ds.

Standing outside a McDonald’s yesterday, Mark Fillipi said he doesn’t support the idea of a ban.

“I don’t think it makes too much sense. People aren’t going want to park their cars” instead of using drive-throughs, he said. “Starting your car causes the same pollution as idling.”

At a Chinese buffet restaurant, Judy Berkelmans said she does not see a problem with drive-throughs.

“I don’t think there’s any proof that it’s going to make emissions worse. You see people leaving their car running to go inside and that’s just as bad,” she said.

“It’s like the smoking thing, telling people where they can smoke outside. If I don’t want to smell other people’s smoke I walk away. If you don’t like drive-throughs, don’t use them.”

The city proposal doesn’t call for shutting down drive-throughs, but prohibiting them in intensive business and pedestrian-oriented areas.

That would mean no new drive-throughs in areas such as Wortley Village, Old East village, Byron or the downtown.

But Kate Sillberg said banning new drive-throughs will create new problems.

“Well, then, they’re going to have to increase the size of parking lots at these places, aren’t they? There’s not a lot of room downtown for parking lots,” she said.

Sillberg said as a new mother, she enjoys the convenience of letting her little one sleep while she grabs a quick bite.

“I look for places with drive-throughs so I don’t have to take my son out of the car,” she said.

“People who have to take their kids out of the car seats, especially if they’re sleeping, they really prefer drive-throughs,” she said. “You could tell them to just avoid going out . . . ”

Sillberg said she signed a petition circulating in the city’s fast-food outlets, urging residents to fight any type of drive-through ban.

She’s not alone. As of Friday, more than 32,000 signatures had been collected.

“Personally I don’t go to the drive-through. I consider it laziness. But if you’re elderly and can’t get out of your car, then that’s what it’s for,” said Shawn Roberts, who also signed the petition.

But Kelly Kupczyk said there are enough pros and cons that serious thought should be given to stopping new drive-throughs from popping up in otherwise quiet neighbourhoods.

“If there are questions, then stop giving licences to new restaurants for a while, because there are lots of drive-throughs,” she said.

“But if you close Timmy’s, people are going to be upset . . . Maybe council is trying to deflect attention from the other things going on, like absenteeism at meetings.”

DRIVE-THROUGHS 101

WHAT’S THE FUSS?

City hall has proposed tighter restrictions on drive-through locations, a move the fast-food industry has publicly interpreted as a plan to ban or partially ban drive-throughs. City planners have said the changes would clarify, not change, where drive-throughs can go. Some politicians want to limit new drive-throughs to protect the environment from vehicle idling — a claim the industry disputes would do any good — and to cut noise, litter and traffic disruptions.

WHO’S INVOLVED?

Politically, city council’s planning committee is stickhandling the issue. On the industry side, it’s the Ontario Restaurant Hotel and Motel Association. The industry group is campaigning against any move to ban drive-throughs, including with an online petition at www.drivethrutruth.ca. Other measures include the blue “Don’t ban drive-thrus” shirts many London fast-food workers are wearing and leaflets arguing the industry’s case.

HOW’D WE GET HERE?

It all started last summer, when the city served notice it intended to review its rules for drive-throughs. Industry reaction was sought last fall and in February, a divided council asked city staff to investigate options to restrict drive-throughs.

WHAT’S HAPPENING NOW?

A public meeting of the planning committee to gather input, was called off last Tuesday after about 200 people showed up — too many for the council chamber’s fire safety limit — angering some in the industry about a perceived attack on their right to be heard. Some committee members seemed confused about why the meeting — to be rescheduled — was abruptly called off.

WHAT OTHER CITIES DO

Drive-throughs follow crowds, and most new ones locate in high-growth areas where zoning bylaws spell out rules about needed space and ability to safely turn off major roads. But some cities are starting to clamp down: In California, some cities have banned drive-throughs and Toronto has placed new limits on where they can go.

— Free Press files

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