(TNS) -- Corte Madera, Calif., wants Amy’s Drive Thru to open a restaurant in town, but first the Planning Commission needs an explanation of why a drive-thru is a good fit, despite a town ordinance against drive-thrus.
After a study session Tuesday to review the planned restaurant at Paradise Drive, commission chairman Peter Chase said the project has the “general support of the commission ... without question,” but that the applicants “have to justify the drive-thru aspect of it.”
The commissioners commended representatives of the vegetarian fast-food restaurant for what they called a thoughtful proposal, but asked that they return with a traffic study and a “more finished design.” They asked that the study include information about pollution from idling cars in the drive-thru queue, and asked that the architecture be polished with a more “craftsman-style” design.
“The traffic study will either give us a good foundation or something to argue about,” Chase said.
Residents had similar concerns about the aesthetics, traffic, litter and pollution, but for the most part, expressed enthusiasm over the project.
“My only question is, how fast can you come?” Margaret Bandel asked the restaurant representatives.
Amy’s Drive Thru, which opened its first site in Rohnert Park two years ago, is seeking a second restaurant at 5839 Paradise Drive. The 1.1-acre site next to northbound Highway 101 has been vacant since May 2014, when the Denny’s restaurant closed after more than 50 years.
The restaurant operation is owned by Amy’s Kitchen, a Petaluma-based organic packaged-foods producer. The company announced its plans for a Corte Madera site in July.
Because a town zoning ordinance does not allow drive-thru restaurants, the drive-thru feature has become a sticking point in the plan.
Commissioner Phyllis Metcalfe said if the town approves the plan with a drive-thru, “it’s like opening floodgates.”
“This is a restaurant we would really like to have,” she said. “That doesn’t mean every business that has a drive-thru is one that we want.”
The project would include a drive-thru lane with a 19-car queue, an approximately 4,000 square-foot restaurant, more than 3,000 square feet dedicated to outdoor seating, 41 vehicle parking stalls and 11 bicycle parking spaces.
“First and foremost we want to create an inviting place,” said architect Zoee Astrachan of Interstice Architects.
Astrachan said each aspect was designed with a purpose that makes the best use of the narrow lot and enhances Paradise Drive. The landscaping would act as a screen to freeway noise and sound. Outdoor seating would be on the east side of the property, shielded by landscaping and the building.
Architects said a planned 45-foot tower feature will likely be nixed from the proposal.
The restaurant would seat approximately 60 diners indoors and 100 outdoors.
Commissioner Charles Lee asked staff to report back with data about other drive-thru restaurants along the Highway 101 corridor for comparison.
Because there were concerns about pollution and traffic, the commission also wants staff and the applicants to include in their application numbers from the Rohnert Park location, including traffic impact there and average customer visits.
Paul Schiefer, director of restaurant operations, said the dining ratio at the Rohnert Park restaurant is 45 percent drive-thru customers to 55 percent dine-in customers. During peak hours, the restaurant could serve up to 150 customers an hour. Schiefer said they would include exact numbers in the next presentation.
Metcalfe asked that the exit out of the drive-thru be a right-turn only onto Paradise Drive for safety and traffic flow. The architects agreed that was a good idea.
Former planning commissioner Richard Perlstein said that years ago Denny’s had a proposal to revamp the site. That plan didn’t get approved, and he said he regrets it.
“This would be a great project and a great asset to the town,” he said.
Others agreed, including Julia Winn, a Mill Valley mother. She said finding parking and getting her kids out of car seats to go to a restaurant has become a chore and a drive-thru offering healthy, organic food would be a welcome addition.
After hearing comments, Chase said, “Let’s put the pedal to the metal and see where we can get with this thing.”
Rachel Berliner, who founded Amy’s Kitchen in 1987 with her husband Andy, said she is “thrilled with how receptive the community is to the idea.”
“Hopefully the project will go through,” she said.
©2017 The Marin Independent Journal (Novato, Calif.) Distributed by Tribune Content Agency, LLC.