Drive-up window key hurdle for possible Santa Rosa In-N-Out

Drive-up window key hurdle for possible Santa Rosa In-N-Out


Published: Wednesday, August 19, 2009 at 3:00 a.m.
Last Modified: Wednesday, August 19, 2009 at 10:32 p.m.

In-N-Out Burger wants to open a restaurant in Santa Rosa and the key hurdle is gaining city approval for a drive-through section near an often congested intersection.

City planners are recommending the Santa Rosa Planning Commission allow the immensely popular burger chain to augment a planned sit-down fast-food restaurant by selling its burgers, fries and shakes through a drive-up window on County Center Drive near Steele Lane where the busy thoroughfare runs under Highway 101.

But the prospect of more than a dozen cars sitting in line for food at peak periods could run up against a City Council directive to review how developments contribute to greenhouse gas emissions, said Noah Housh, the city planner for the In-N-Out proposal.

“That’s going to be the deciding factor,” Housh said. “Drive-throughs are a fairly big deal in Santa Rosa. There has been council direction that we may not want to allow drive- throughs.”

In-N-Out operates drive-through restaurants in Petaluma and Rohnert Park and has made clear to city officials it would likely not build the Santa Rosa burger joint without a drive-up window, Housh said.

The In-N-Out project manager did not return calls. Company officials do not comment on a restaurant that is not on the company’s list of stores it is set to break ground on or open, said Phyllis Cudworth, a spokeswoman.

The Irvine-based chain began informal talks with the city’s Design Review Board in February and revised the plan after two meetings with the panel.

The Planning Commission is scheduled to consider permitting the drive-through at its Aug. 27 meeting.

Planned for a 1-acre site at Steele Lane and County Center Drive, the 3,350-square-foot In-N-Out would replace a larger restaurant constructed in 1973 and now home to a Chinese food establishment, which would be demolished.

The In-N-Out would have enough parking for its building size, Housh said. A traffic study commissioned by In-N-Out found the restaurant would not worsen congestion at nearby intersections, he said.

The proposal would not require Planning Commission review if not for the proposed drive-through. The site’s general commercial zoning allows restaurants, Housh said.

As planned, the drive-through meets the city’s requirements. Those include the width of lanes, turning area, spacing from driveways and room for cars lining up at the window.

But the backdrop to the review is the city’s effort to reduce greenhouse gases by encouraging development that puts more housing on less land and mixes residential and commercial development so residents drive less.

The last drive-through reviewed by the city was approved two years ago for the Longs Drug Store on Mendocino Avenue. The previous drive-throughs approved for food establishments were in 2005 for Panda Express and Starbucks, both in a shopping center at Stony Point and Sebastopol roads, Housh said.

If the Planning Commission permits the In-N-Out drive-through, the Design Review Board must then approve the final plan. The City Council still could take up the project for final review.

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