Construction of a long-awaited drive-thru has recently been approved for the Dunkin’ on East Franklin Street.
After applying to modify its permit to allow a drive-thru in 2017, Dunkin' received unanimous approval from the Chapel Hill Town Council on March 22. This vote came after the council held a public hearing in February regarding the Dunkin' location at 1509 E. Franklin St.
Once the Town Council voted, Chapel Hill Mayor Pam Hemminger said, "Go forth, and drive through." The council approved the permit without discussion.
According to a 1998 Town ordinance, drive-thru construction requires a special use permit in the area.
Tas Lagoo, a senior planner for the Town of Chapel Hill, said there are very few drive-thrus in Chapel Hill because of the special use permit application requirement.
The special use permit demands that applicants meet four standards for drive-thru approval. These standards include ensuring that the development will improve or maintain general welfare, as well as making sure the land use conforms with general plans for the physical development of the town.
“A pervasive urban legend in Chapel Hill is that drive-thrus are banned in Chapel Hill or that they're prohibited,” Lagoo said. “That's not the case. Drive-thrus are allowed in certain zoning districts .”
Lagoo also said Dunkin' supplied enough information and made a strong case, meeting the standards required for the special use permit. He said there was no evidence to disprove any of Dunkin' claims.
Aaron Nelson, the president and CEO of the Chamber for a Greater Chapel Hill-Carrboro, said the pandemic showed that flexibility and customer service are extremely important for businesses.
“We're very excited for them to get their drive-thru,” Nelson said. “We think it's going to help grow sales, and that will improve their ability to expand their employment and have a bigger impact on our economy.”
Nelson said the Chamber would like an easier, quicker process for businesses to apply for or modify special use permits.
Dunkin's modification application and project narrative also has a section on traffic, explaining how the drive-thru will prioritize speed and efficiency.
Nelson said some past opposition to drive-thrus has stemmed from the pollution caused by vehicle idling. Recent moves toward electric vehicles and vehicles that will turn off while stationary means these environmental impacts are declining, he said.
“I think if they're well designed, they can be a great asset to our community,” Nelson said.
In its application and project narrative, Dunkin' also said the drive-thru will create more access for customers who have small children or may have limited mobility due to factors like disability and injury.
Preston Grady, a first-year at UNC, said Dunkin’s intention to provide for people with disabilities is exciting.
“UNC as a campus does not tend to be the most accessible,” he said. “So I think that that would be really important, especially since we do have a large population of students with both visible and invisible physical disabilities. I think that it is incredibly important.”
Grady is a regular coffee drinker — one who loves the coffee at Dunkin'. Grady said if he had access to a car, he would frequent the Dunkin' drive-thru.
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