Battle brewing over drive-thrus | Tim Hortons petitions the minister of municipal affairs to block Kingston’s official plan

Battle brewing over drive-thrus


November 11, 2009

Updated 23 hours ago

Tim Hortons has petitioned the minister of municipal affairs to block Kingston’s official plan while the company fights regulations on drive-thrus.

The lawyer representing the iconic coffee and doughnuts company says it all comes down to the "Google science" found in Kingston’s anti-idling bylaw.

"They go online and do Google searches and turns things up. They reach a conclusion that is simply incorrect," said Ottawa lawyer Michael Polowin, who represents TDL Group, the Tim Hortons parent company.

"Drive-thrus are better for the environment than parking lots are," said Polowin. "That’s the bottom line."

Polowin appeared at last week’s planning committee meeting to present an environmental report Tim Hortons had commissioned from the Guelph company RWDI Air Inc.

He said modern vehicles have catalytic converters for reducing emissions which operate most efficiently when warm. When cars idle, the converters are working. Polowin said that when people are encouraged to shut off their vehicles and go into a restaurant, the converter cools and becomes less efficient.

"When you start up again, there is a burst of emissions into the air," he said. "The cars idling in the drive-thrus produce fewer emissions than cars in the parking lot. The primary culprit are the start-up emissions."

Councillor Bill Glover sits on planning committee and heard the Tim Hortons case last week.

He called the report "insignificant" because in one area it sampled just 52 vehicles.

When asked why he thought the chain was spending so much time and money on the issue, Glover said, "drive-thrus are their business, aren’t they? How many Tims don’t have drive-thrus?"

In the end, the committee wasn’t swayed and voted not to change the wording in the official plan regarding drive-thrus.

Polowin said that if the minister doesn’t intervene, the company will take the City of Kingston before the Ontario Municipal Board.

Before that, however, the Tim Hortons delegation will return to Kingston on Monday to talk further with planning department staff and a lawyer representing the city.

"It would be everyone’s best hope that we can avoid an appeal over the official plan," said city planning and development director George Wallace.

There are 55 drive-thrus in Kingston. Nine are at banks, two at pharmacies and 44 at restaurants.

Tim Hortons has 15 of those drive-thrus.

Though vehicle emissions make up most of the company’s argument, the challenge to the official plan doesn’t deal directly with that issue. Polowin’s case to the minister is that the city did not provide for proper public consultation.

Tim Hortons is also concerned about wording in the official plan that refers to "concerns" such as "climate change, air quality and buffering from neighbouring properties."

Specifically, the company takes exception to the 50-metre setbacks for drive-thrus from nearby residential properties.

Polowin said those regulations are usually based on issues of noise, most often emanating from the drive-thru speaker box. He said the company is working on making that technology better.

Another issue is how drivethrus might interfere with pedestrians, and particularly in downtown heritage areas of cities.

Polowin said the City of Ottawa recently adopted his wording on their official plan that sets down more precise guidelines for building esthetics in the downtown core but could still allow for a drive-thru to be built.

He said Kingston’s wording starts from the point of restricting drive-thrus altogether. "That’s not fair," said Polowin.

Planning committee chair and councillor Vicki Schmolka said Tim Hortons shouldn’t be so concerned.

"No one’s trying to stop people from driving through to get their coffee or go to the bank or pick up their prescriptions," she said.

Schmolka said the official plan is mainly concerned with traffic flow, pedestrian safety and proximity to residences and that staff may ask for extra studies to deal with concerns.

"I think Tim Hortons is trying to protect their interests and their challenging people across the country when it comes to drivethrus," said Schmolka. "What are we supposed to do? Cave in because they tell us to?"

She and Glover believe staff provided sound information about pollution from idling vehicles, even though that’s not the main issue in the official plan.

Polowin said Tim Hortons will continue to combat bad science.

"It’s why we had this battle in Ottawa. We had a battle in 2008 in London. It’s important to Tim Hortons. It’s important to make certain as much as we can that the kind of misinformation the city has done here ends up being rebuked," he said.

Polowin said he’s hopeful his client can work with city staff at next week’s meeting in Kingston.

"If we can’t, we’re going to have to find another way to solve this problem. It’s not a threat. It’s just reality."

Article ID# 2168102

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