SANDPOINT — The city’s proposed ban on drive-through businesses has created a political firestorm

Sandpoint officials fine-tune drive-through proposal

Posted: Tuesday, Apr 14, 2009 – 10:06:04 am PDT
Staff writer

SANDPOINT — The city’s proposed ban on drive-through businesses has created a political firestorm, and some city officials now say the prohibition is unnecessary.

The proposal would, among a host of other changes, limit the use of drive-through businesses to areas zoned for light industrial use. The changes were put before the Sandpoint Planning Commission earlier this month and will reach the full council in May.

The Planning Commission recommended several changes to the document, including, on a split vote, requiring drive-throughs to submit to a conditional use permit rather than an outright ban. Despite the recommendation, the commission kept the original proposal intact, which means the council could choose to ignore the commission’s recommendation, according to City Planner Jeremy Grimm.

“Technically, yes, the total prohibition is absolutely on the table,” Grimm said. “It’s going to be in the proposed ordinance that the council will consider.”

The zone change was designed  to be a temporary measure until the council completes a planned overhaul of all zoning laws, Grimm said.

After receiving more than 100 e-mails on the proposal and speaking with a number of local business owners, Councilman John Reuter now believes a drive-through ban — even temporary — is inappropriate. He said requiring drive-throughs to submit to conditional use permits is more in line with his original intent for the zone change.

Reuter, who introduced the drive-through amendment at October’s Public Works Committee meeting, said his focus with the ordinance has always been on protecting residential neighborhoods. He said when the proposal reaches the full council, he will attempt to safeguard drive-throughs currently in business while adding language to give the zone change a one-year life span. As it stands, the proposal does not have a “sunset clause” and would not allow current drive-through business owners to rebuild if their building was damaged or destroyed.

According to Reuter, the entire ordinance would be unnecessary if it weren’t for the unwillingness of some large corporations to respect the rights of their neighbors and the city.

“We have to have some of these rules now to make sure that when corporations come into Sandpoint they play nice with everybody else,” he said. “That’s not kicking them out, it’s saying play by the same rules that everyone else here has played by for years, for decades.”

Although she has not read the full ordinance, Councilwoman Carrie Logan said she would support legislation aimed at reining in drive-through businesses, specifically restaurants.

“I’m in favor of going forward with modifying the commercial zone as it’s presently configured so it comes more in line with what we envisioned with the comprehensive plan,” she said.

“As a part of that, if there was consideration given to limiting drive-throughs, I would certainly be open to doing that.”

While the drive-through prohibition has been the most controversial aspect of the proposal, nine new site-plan guidelines would also impact Sandpoint’s future.

If passed, the zone change would require all new or rebuilding structures with a 20,000-square-foot building footprint to adhere to a conditional use agreement that, among other rules, would judge the building on how aesthetically pleasing its colors and materials are.

Grimm, who takes credit for the site plan aspect of the proposal, said the aesthetic provisions are designed to guard against large box stores building in areas he believes would be inappropriate.

“Without that provision in there, you could have a Home Depot built on, say, Boyer Avenue. So as the sun is setting, all those people that live on the west side of Boyer are going to have this intense orange glow when they walk out into their yard because of the orange building,” Grimm said.

“There are some business that have obnoxious colors, and when you do it on a 200-foot long wall, it gets overwhelming.”

Grimm said the aesthetic aspects of the proposal are in line with the comp plan, but could not say the same about a complete ban on drive-throughs.

“I think a number of the measures are consistent with the directive of the comp plan,” he said. “With the drive-through, I think that’s probably much more restrictive than what the comp plan … envisions.”

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