Drive-Thru Ordinance Gets Final Approval

Final approval of amendments to Ann Arbor’s zoning ordinance related to drive-thrus has been given by the city council. Among other things, the amendments add a definition of a “drive-thru facility” to Chapter 55 of the city code. Currently, the term used throughout the code is “drive-in,” which is not explicitly defined in the code. Action came at the council’s June 2, 2014 meeting.

The revisions define a drive-thru in this way: “Any building or structure, or portion thereof, that is constructed or operated for the purpose of providing goods or services to customers who remain in their vehicle during the course of the transaction.” The revisions also clarify that a drive-thru is an accessory use, not the principle use of the building. A project in which a drive-thru would be the principle use would not be allowed. Basic layout requirements would also be added to the ordinance.

In addition, the changes require drive-thrus to obtain special exception use permits, which would be allowed only in the O (office), C2B (business service) and C3 (fringe commercial) zoning districts. Drive-thrus would not be allowed in the C1, D1, D2, and other commercial districts.

Before the amendments drive-thrus were allowed in C3 districts without a special exception use, and allowed as special exception uses in the C2B district.

When considering whether to grant a special exception use – which does not require additional city council approval – the planning commission considers these issues:

1. Is the location, size and character of the proposed use compatible with the principal uses of the district and adjacent districts? Is it consistent with the Master Plan? Is it consistent with the surrounding area? Will it have any detrimental effects to the use or value of surrounding area, or the natural environment?

2. Is the location, size, character, layout, access and traffic generated by the use hazardous or inconvenient or conflicting with the normal traffic of the neighborhood? Is off-street parking safe for pedestrians? Do the necessary vehicular turning movements block normal traffic flow? Are any additional public services or facilities needed by the use, and will they be detrimental to the community?

3. Is the maximum density and minimum required open space at least equal to the standards normally required by the Zoning Ordinance for the district?

The planning commission recommended the changes at its April 1, 2014 meeting.

The amendments were first reviewed by the commission’s ordinance revisions committee in 2007, but didn’t move forward to the full commission for consideration. The ORC most recently reviewed these changes in March of 2014. [.pdf of staff memo and proposed amendments]

Details on the council’s deliberations are provided in The Chronicle’s live updates filed during the meeting.

This brief was filed from the city council’s chambers on the second floor of city hall located at 301 E. Huron.