City Council to consider temporary ban on future restaurant drive-thrus

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The wait line for food at drive-thru restaurants might look a little different in the future in Santa Clarita, should new queuing standards take effect, according to the City Council’s agenda for Tuesday’s meeting. 

Council members are expected to consider adopting a 45-day ban on new establishments of restaurants with drive-thrus in an effort to curb traffic and pedestrian hazards, according to the proposed urgency ordinance. 

“When drive-thru lines extend significantly on private property, the lines can create parking and circulation conflicts in the shopping centers where they are located,” the ordinance reads. “Those lines can extend across sidewalks and into drive-way aprons, and even onto city streets, which can result in significant traffic hazards, including unexpected stopping of vehicles, blind spots, unsafe lane changes to avoid lines on city streets, and hazards to pedestrians attempting to cross driveway aprons and streets impacted by lines of cars.” 

The moratorium would apply only to applicants seeking to build a restaurant with a drive-thru and not affect current businesses in operation, such as Chick-fil-A in Valencia, which Mayor Cameron Smyth said is one of the establishments that is known to consistently have extensive queuing. 

“Chick-fil-A and In-N-Out are two that come to mind in Santa Clarita that consistently have deep drive-thru lines, and while we give them credit for their successful business model, we have to make sure they’re placed in locations that don’t cause hazards,” he said. 

Should the ordinance receive the council’s support, city staff will “study and analyze issues related to the appropriate standards for queuing of vehicles in restaurant drive-thrus and develop recommended revisions to the city’s current standards,” the city staff report read. 

Smyth said analysis can come in the form of a traffic-circulation study. 

Current standards under the Santa Clarita Municipal Code state that there should be enough space for the stacking of four cars between the order board and the pick-up window and for six vehicles behind the order board, with no less than a total queuing length of 200 feet. 

“With approximately 20 feet per car, recent installations of restaurant drive-thrus in the city have experienced significantly longer lines than 200 feet in length,” the staff report said. 

The ordinance also details that the temporary ban should not prohibit the issuance of permits/approvals for restaurant drive-thrus where the applicant demonstrates that the project “will not result in queuing of vehicles in driveway aprons or on adjacent public streets.”

Currently, there are two pending building permit applications for restaurant drive-thrus and three pending Planning Commission approvals are expected in the near future, according to city officials. 

Some gas stations in Santa Clarita have also been the site of long queuing, but Smyth said the city is currently only looking into restaurants. 

The ordinance will require a four-fifths vote of the City Council, and would take effect immediately. If adopted, it is expected to return to a public hearing for council members to consider an extension of up to a year from the date of the adopted ordinance. 

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