Sunday, March 1, 2009
No New Drive-Throughs On West Broadway (For Now)
The Hawthorne Neighborhood's Housing Director, Jeff Skrenes, went to City Hall a couple days ago to take care of the kind of bread-and-butter livability tasks we expect from him; in this case testifying against a variance for a drive-through restaurant on West Broadway.
(I know what you're thinking: isn't this the kind of dry-as-unbuttered-toast article we can get from reading "The Bridge" newspaper. Well...yes. But every now and then I make an effort to eat my journalistic vegetables)
Anyway, Jeff provided information for the following narrative about the Marathon station at 1120 W. Broadway...
Background: the owner of this gas station has developed some significant planned changes to the facility, which even he admits is (currently) an eyesore. In general, the neighborhood is supportive of these changes, with the exception of the drive-through. There are several reasons why:
1.) Safety. The drive-through would be exiting just before the Fremont/Broadway intersection. Cars park on the left-hand side of the street, there is a slight decline slop at that point, and a large church obstructing sight lines of vehicles coming from the drive through. Combine those factors with the knowledge that drivers are often going 40 mph in a 30 mph zone and then speed up when they see the light about to change. It is not uncommon to see cars whiz through the intersection at 45-50 mph.
Add to that mix a family leaving the drive-through, putting drinks in cup holders, opening sandwich wrappers, looking for French fries, etc....it's a series of traffic fatalities just waiting to happen.
2.) Long-term zoning. The current owner claims he wants to open his own drive-through restaurant and not another chain. But once the zoning variance is changed, he could decide to open up such a franchise if his own business isn't doing well, or sell to one of these chains.
(What DON'T we have on Broadway? Arby's, Hardees, and White Castle, I guess)
3.) West Broadway Alive Plan. The new drive-through is in direct contradiction to the plans for Broadway adopted in 2006 by the city council after much neighborhood buy-in. This is the first time a proposal has come forth that is contrary to what residents have expressed as their plans for the neighborhood. Approving their request would have sent a signal to many throughout North Minneapolis that the city was only paying lip service to their desires and contributions.
So here is what happened at the hearing. The business owner had the approval of the Jordan Area Community Council and applied for the zoning variance. A previous committee granted all of the variances he was asking for, including the drive-through. But it was a close vote. In a wonderful show of citizen activism, members of the Old Highland area scraped together the $350 needed to appeal this decision. (Old Highland is not an official city neighborhood, they're in the Near North Neighborhood and recognized by the city only as a part of the Northside Residents' Redevelopment Council/NRRC)
The presenter on behalf of the business owner started off by showing the plans, which on paper look pretty good EXCEPT FOR THE DRIVE-THROUGH. This was to be expected, but the surprising part was when the presenter said the plans ALL COMPLIED WITH THE WEST BROADWAY ALIVE VISION. The council members on the Zoning and Planning Committee (Samuels, Schiff, Goodman, Colvin-Roy, Gordan, and Remington) had some great questions for the business owner. Primarily, Schiff mentioned that the alleyway would be used as an entry point for the drive-through, and this kind of thing has never, ever been granted by the City of Minneapolis before. He wondered why we would do so, now.
Cam Gorden (Green Party) pointed out that in the summertime, vehicles idling in the drive through would have their exhaust fumes going directly into any open windows in the church very close next door. And though there have been meetings where Lisa Goodman was CLEARLY NOT CLUED IN TO NORTH MINNEAPOLIS ISSUES, she was on her game this day.
Then it came time for public input.
All the speakers except one were against the drive-through. Hawthorne Housing Director Jeff Skrenes emphasized the unsavory traffic situation, saying, "It's not a matter of IF we'll see accidents. It's a matte of WHEN, and how bed they'll be, and how many before we're back here trying to undo what could be prevented today."
Jeff reminded the committee that there were several exceptions here that would not be granted anywhere else in the city. Combine that with the proposals contradictions to the West Broadway Alive plan, and how upholding the zoning variances would send the message to north Minneapolis that their opinions are secondary and also that residents have lower standards or deserve to have lower standards imposed upon them. Jeff submitted the Hawthorne neighborhood's letter of support of Old Highland's appeal for the record.
Public discussions were closed and the city council members voted. But city council members can't JUST vote. They have to each give their own narrative of why they're voting the way they are. Remington said he couldn't help but notice the racial disparities in the speakers (African or Middle Eastern businessmen, African Americans in favor, what people opposed) but he was going to vote to uphold the appeal. Jeff says it is worth noting that the Hawthorne board is racially diverse, and voted unanimously to support Old Highland.
Don Samuels spoke out very strongly that we need to support a vision for good business on Broadway, and that "right now the number one business on West Broadway is heroin." He said if we only support the kinds of businesses that are currently there (such as drive-throughs) then that dynamic will never change.
The committee voted unanimously to uphold the appeal. No new drive-through's on Broadway!