New drive-thrus in Chapel Hill and Carrboro are hard to find due to restrictions on restaurant drive-thrus.
Chapel Hill’s ordinance requires businesses to apply for a special use permit that must be approved by the Town Council in order to have a drive-thru. Carrboro’s ordinance only allows drive-thru restaurants in one zone of the town.
Town Council member Nancy Oates said environmental factors were behind Chapel Hill’s ordinance.
“It had to do with the idea we didn’t want, as a town, cars idling and that would be increased air pollution,” Oates said.
The ordinance was passed before Oates and fellow Town Council member Maria Palmer were in office, but Palmer said she would have voted for it.
“We could argue that there are times when being able to drive through a fast food place and not get out of a vehicle might be significant, but there are not that many benefits compared to the problems they create: traffic back-ups and they don’t make for great walkable communities, they create problems for pedestrians and bicycles,” Palmer said.
Both Oates and Palmer said the ordinance is beneficial to Chapel Hill. Oates said she doesn’t think the ordinance will be changed in the future,.
“I don’t see it being a high priority. There’s just so much else we want to deal with for quality of life issues,” Oates said.
Sunrise Biscuit Kitchen, located on East Franklin Street, was able to avoid this ordinance as the drive-thru was constructed prior to the implementation of the ordinance. Store Manager Randy Owen said without the drive-thru, their business wouldn’t be the same.
“The drive-thru is more than 75 percent of our business, so it’s very important,” he said. “I think we would probably drop a good percentage because there are a lot of people that don’t want to get out of their cars and won’t come into the building.”
Oates said she has heard complaints from local residents about the traffic that the drive-thru at Sunrise causes, but Owen said they have recently renovated their store to accommodate for this issue.
Dunkin’ Donuts, which opened on East Franklin last summer, doesn't have a drive-thru due to the ordinance. The coffee shop without a drive-thru has affected efficiency, but not business, according to Josh Foushee, Dunkin' Donuts shift manager.
“Faster service would be better equipped if we had a drive-thru, but money-wise, no, because we make just as much money as the stores that do have a drive-thru in our region,” Foushee said.
Wendy’s in Carrboro on South Greensboro Street was also able to avoid the ordinance, just like Sunrise Biscuit Kitchen.
New restaurants are not allowed to have drive-thrus in any zone other than a zone located on Highway 54. Arby’s has a drive-thru because they're located in this zone.
Carrboro Board of Aldermen member Damon Seils was a large proponent for pushing drive-thrus out of Carrboro’s core downtown area.
“I was the one who a few years ago pushed to make sure that our land-use ordinance reflected not having them anywhere in the downtown,” Seils said. “There were still a few zoning districts that allowed to have them downtown and I was the person that pushed them out.”
While both Chapel Hill and Carrboro have both cited climate concerns as reasoning behind ordinances restricting drive-thus, Carrboro town officials also said safety factored into the decision.
“The reasoning is that drive-thrus just aren’t conducive to pedestrian oriented areas," Seils said. "They create conflicts with pedestrians and they’re really more important in car-oriented areas."
Aldermen member Bethany Chaney said pollution was also part of the reasoning behind the ordinance.
“There was concern about wanting to restrict drive-thrus in the downtown area in particular for two reasons," she said. "One was safety and number two was climate concern."
Seils said he would not support a change to allow more drive-thrus in Carrboro, but Chaney said she’s conflicted when it comes to the topic.
"I think it diversifies affordability downtown and while I don’t want to see another drive-thru restaurant downtown, I’m not opposed to drive-thrus period because I think that that’s a function that they play in cities," Chaney said.
She said the source of her uncertainty started after a bank was supposed to bring their corporate headquarters to Carrboro, but couldn’t because the bank required a drive-thru.
“We don’t allow flexibility and frankly I think we should when it comes to both economic development and considerations for consumer needs like restaurants that are affordable,” Chaney said.
To get the day's news and headlines in your inbox each morning, sign up for our email newsletters.