EAST LYME – With members stating that they wanted to avoid creating a “hamburger hill” on Route 161, the Planning Commission decided on Tuesday night that a proposal expanding allowances for drive-thru windows didn’t meet the town’s goals for development.
Atlantis Management Group, a New York-based chain of gas station convenience stores, applied to change the East Lyme zoning regulations to allow new drive-thru restaurants as close as 250 feet to existing drive-thrus in the town’s CA commercial district. Currently, drive-thrus can’t be closer than 1,000 feet apart in that district.
Citing traffic and air quality issues, the Planning Commission unanimously voted that the proposal was inconsistent with the town’s Plan of Conservation and Development, before forwarding it to the Zoning Commission for a final decision.
The commission also noted that Atlantis Management Group didn’t submit a map showing exactly where drive-thrus would be allowed under their proposed regulations. The commission also noted that the applicant could apply to the Zoning Board of Appeals for a variance, rather than changing zoning regulations.
Atlantis Management Group did not respond to a voicemail on Wednesday seeking comment.
Based on how the proposed regulation is written, Town Planner Gary Goeschel told the commission he thought the group would be interested in a property around Exit 74 off of Interstate 95 – near the Costco, Starbucks or Mobil station.
“How many of these would pop up once this regulation passed? I don’t know,” Goeschel said. “How many could be established within the town following these [proposed] guidelines? I don’t know. I’d be interested.”
Commission member Kirk Scott said he thought the 1,000-foot buffer between drive-thru restaurants was written into the regulations to prevent Route 161 from becoming a “hamburger hill,” where there’s “drive-thru after drive-thru after drive-thru” in a condensed area.
“I feel like this change would change 161 from a light industrial kind of place to more of a fast food row,” Scott said.
Goeschel said his impression was that the proposal as written wasn’t consistent with the East Lyme Plan of Conservation and Development, because it did not sufficiently address potential traffic impacts.
“We’re certainly concerned about traffic congestion as a result of queues from a drive-thru facility backing out onto the road,” Goeschel said.
Commission member Jason Deeble questioned whether the proposal agreed with the town’s goal of increasing walkability. He also said drive-thru restaurants are notorious for overflowing trash bins that attract seagulls and other pests, and create litter – which the plan aims to reduce.
“Also, an increase in these things might affect air quality if you have all these vehicles idling around a building,” Deeble said. “If we have several of them up and down 161 in a hamburger hill scenario, I would like to know more about how that would impact the breathability of the Flanders area.”