The latest in a wave of drive-thru restaurants gaining approval along the shoreline is a Dunkin Donuts on an undeveloped stretch of Boston Post Road in Guilford, approved by the town’s Planning and Zoning Commission on Wednesday.
Frank D’Andrea, who is vice-chair of the commission and recused himself from this application, is planning to build a new Dunkin Donuts location at 1486 Boston Post Road with a drive thru window to replace his two other locations in town.
The commission voted 6-0 to approve a special permit with conditions for D’Andrea’s proposed new store. D’Andrea, who chaired the rest of the commission’s Wednesday night meeting, did not participate in the discussion aside from answering questions about the application at the first public hearing in February, and did not vote.
This follows the commission’s decision last April to expand where drive thru restaurants are allowed — opening the door for drive thrus in the Post Road Village 2 zone. The zone covers the area along Boston Post Road between Interstate 95 and Dunk Rock Road.
Partly driven by COVID, but also by longer-running trends toward convenience, towns across the area are fielding requests from developers to loosen restrictions on drive thru windows in restaurants and pharmacies.
Towns are left weighing the benefits looser restrictions would bring to these businesses with the possible impacts of traffic, and conflicts against the goal to increase walkability that many towns have emphasized in their plans of conservation and development.
Project engineer Michael Harkin, who is based in Killingworth — where D’Andrea recently gained zoning approval to put a drive thru window on another of his Dunkin Donuts locations — said opinion of drive thrus there started to shift during COVID, as people started ordering ahead to pick up their drinks to spend as little time inside the building as possible. With the drive thru added, hardly anyone is going inside at the Killingworth location, he said.
“What we’ve found recently with the latest Dunkin Donuts redesigns that we’ve done throughout the state is that once there’s a drive thru, people utilize it,” Harkin said.
Dave Sullivan, the traffic engineer for D’Andrea, who has worked on many other Dunkin locations, said that historically he’s seen stores do 60 to 70 percent of their business through the drive thru window. That spiked to near 100 percent at the peak of COVID, he said, and even still has stayed around 80 to 85 percent – far above pre-COVID levels – as people’s habits have changed.
At a public hearing in February, commission member Sean Cosgrove questioned whether it was a good idea to start designing developments around COVID, spreading the use of drive thru windows to accommodate a pandemic that will end at some point. D’Andrea said that, at least for Dunkin, the shift to drive thrus goes beyond the pandemic-related desire for customers to avoid going inside.
D’Andrea told the Guilford commission that the proportion of sales done through the drive thru varies by location, but it’s a majority of the business at the Dunkin Donuts stores he owns along the shoreline that have a drive thru window. D’Andrea said he has a location where about 60 percent of sales transact through the window, and another where 80 percent of sales are to drive-up customers.
“One location in a neighboring town that’s not mine, they remodeled and closed their interior completely so it’s strictly a drive thru,” D’Andria said. “[The trend] is heading that way. But more important than just COVID, it lends itself to many different people that either can’t get out of their car, and families where you don’t want to drag the kids out. It’s convenience.”
The Dunkin is one of two buildings proposed for the site. The second building will be two stories, with a 1,600 square foot retail space on the first floor, and a 1,000 square foot, two-bedroom apartment on the second floor.
“We actually were going to go retail there, but there is such a need for one-bedroom and two-bedroom apartments in the town of Guilford that I couldn’t justify telling my client that they should go commercial upstairs,” Harkin said. “So we decided to go with the retail below and then the residential above.”
The plan also includes widening Boston Post Road at the site to create a bypass lane so traffic can flow around cars turning into the parking lot, which Harkin said is a requirement when making a new curb cut on the road. The developer pays for the road work, he said.