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Planning to consider downtown zoning for fast food, new drive-through regulations
Taco Bell construction1
Deputy Director of Development Services Debbie Whitmore said the public opposition to the drive-through Taco Bell restaurant being built near Pitman High School was not the impetus in the City's new zoning ordinance that states drive-through lanes must be located at least 100 feet from a residential district. According to Whitmore, the City was working on changes for drive-through lanes for about four years. - photo by KRISTINA HACKER / The Journal

It could become more difficult for fast food restaurants to set up shop near downtown Turlock as the Planning Commission will be revisiting permitting requirements for the eateries at their next meeting.

Concerns were raised at the April 14 Turlock City Council meeting when the members reviewed a comprehensive update to the City’s Zoning Ordinance. The current ordinance was repealed and replaced, however, a handful of amendments were pushed back to the Planning Commission for further examination.

One of these was precipitated by Council member Steven Nascimento's suggestion that fast food facilities near the downtown be given additional inspection after a McDonald’s restaurant was slated to be built at the corner of Marshall and South Center Streets, the site of the present Bonander Buick GMC car lot. Nascimento said that the project wasn’t well received by the community and the public should have more opportunity for public input for future projects similar in nature.

“I had some concerns about that project and its proximity to downtown and whether or not a drive-through was appropriate,” said Nascimento. “In other areas I think people expect to see a drive-through pop up so it’s probably less of an issue in other zones, but I think a project of this nature in the downtown needs more scrutiny.”

Presently, projects like the  McDonald’s in the transitional commercial area of downtown Turlock require a Minor Discretionary Permit, meaning the project can be reviewed and approved at the staff level and only immediate neighbors are notified. Elevating the review process to a Conditional Use Permit would mean that the project would come before the Planning Commission for a vote which in turn allows for public comment and review. A public notice sign is also placed on the property for further outreach.

The Jack in the Box, which includes a drive-through component, is not affected as the restaurant predates the City plan that bans fast food in the immediate downtown, which was established in 2003.

Drive-throughs of all types, including pharmacies, were also a topic of conversation at the April 14 meeting as the Council considered more specific rules for governing their operations.

“There was a lot of concern as far as how these drive-throughs would impact parking lot circulation and the circulation on the street,” said Deputy Director of Development Services Debbie Whitmore.

One of the new rules discussed was having drive-through lanes located at least 100 feet from a residential district.

There is a Taco Bell being built near Pitman High School that many citizens publically opposed due to its proximity to the residential neighborhoods nearby. However, Whitmore said this high-profile project was not the impetus behind the zoning amendment.

“The drive-through ordinance was something we had been working on for about four years. It just got packaged in with these other ordinance changes,” said Whitmore.

Other drive-through rules include designing the lanes to avoid the stacking up of vehicles, not permitting more than two menu boards per lane, as well as necessary aesthetic measures to minimize visibility to the public right-of-way. The changes were designed to mitigate the impact that the vehicles and the noise they emit, such as radios or idling engines, can have on nearby streets.

The Turlock Planning Commission will consider the drive-through and downtown fast food permitting changes at their May 7 meeting. The Commission will also consider grandfathering in businesses that utilize cargo containers and potentially requiring  double striping for parking spaces in future developments.