STAMFORD – If cars really could drive through drive-thru’s, life would be good, Glenbrook residents say.
But in their dense neighborhood, cars that line up at the drive-thru of a popular doughnut shop create big traffic backups on Hope Street, a badly congested main thoroughfare in Glenbrook.
Now a second doughnut shop opening on Hope Street has been issued a permit for another drive-thru.
The two drive-thru’s will be just blocks apart, said Laurie Doig, a Glenbrook Neighborhood Association board member.
“It’s ridiculous,” Doig said.
Glenbrook resident Sarah Beltran said “the line of traffic from the light at Church Street and Hope Street can back up so far down Hope Street that you can’t see the end” of it.
“It’s hard to believe someone would do something to add more traffic,” Doig said.
A franchisee is converting what had been a Wells Fargo bank branch at 364 Hope St. into a Dunkin’ Donuts, one of a national chain.
Donut Delight, part of a regional chain, has operated at 274 Hope St. for many years. Donut Delight is so busy that cars waiting to pull up to the drive-thru often spill out onto narrow Hope Street, where traffic is bumper-to-bumper several times a day.
“People queue up on Hope Street all the time,” said city Rep. Sean Boeger of District 15, which includes Glenbrook. “No matter which direction they’re coming from, they stop and sit on Hope Street until they can get into the Donut Delight drive-thru.”
Bank to bakery
The Glenbrook Neighborhood Association learned earlier this year that the Wells Fargo bank branch had been purchased by someone who wanted to make it into a Dunkin’ Donuts, Doig said. But association members thought the shop could not have a drive-thru because the Stamford Zoning Board five years ago approved changes that mostly prohibit them.
Then, last month, Glenbrook residents learned that because the Wells Fargo bank had a drive-thru, the Dunkin’ Donuts that will replace it can have one, too, Doig said.
“It’s grandfathered in,” Doig said.
“When we heard about it, we scrambled. We started writing letters. We talked to our neighbors and the Glenbrook Neighborhood Association,” Beltran said of herself and her husband, Rob. “But then we heard the drive-thru had been approved.”
Zoning Enforcement Officer Jim Lunney said that when the Dunkin’ Donuts people came to him, “they said they needed to get moving on the project right away. I told them I had to see their plans and let the engineering department go through it, let the traffic department go through it, to make sure they had it right.”
He researched city regulations, state statutes, precedence and past practice to see whether there was anything that allowed him to deny Dunkin’ Donuts a drive-thru, Lunney said Friday.
“My job in reviewing a project is to protect the city from possible legal action, protect the interests of the neighbors, and help the owner move forward” with a qualified plan, Lunney said.
“I’m from Stamford. I live near Hope Street. I see the traffic there,” he said. “I take my time and think about these things. Sometimes I wake up in the middle of the night thinking about these things because they affect the taxpayers, who are my friends and family and neighbors. I try to do the most-right thing for as many people as possible.”
He has to consider how he would defend his decisions if they were to be challenged in court, Lunney said.
“I think, ‘How would I explain what I did to a judge when I’m on the stand?’” he said. “In this case I decided there was no way, based on the regulations, that I could take that drive-thru away from them.”
An initial permit
While he was researching, he issued the Dunkin’ Donuts franchisee a permit to begin converting the bank building into a doughnut shop, but without a drive-thru, Lunney said.
Before issuing the permit that allowed the drive-thru, he consulted with traffic department chief Frank Petise, he said. Petise added a caveat to the permit saying that if traffic from the Dunkin’ Donuts drive-thru starts to back up onto Hope Street, the site must be reworked to alleviate it.
The Dunkin’ Donuts likely can handle 15 to 20 cars in a drive-thru queue, Lunney said.
Doig said that’s hard to believe.
“They can’t possibly snake that many cars in that parking lot. It’s absolutely unrealistic,” Doig said. “There will be cars blocking the sidewalk and the street, and holding up the cars going in and out of the post office next door and the gas station across the street. Once again we get the message – who cares about Glenbrook? It’s not a neighborhood important enough to be concerned about. It’s sad we have to keep fighting these things.”
She and Beltran and other Glenbrook residents considered bringing the case before the Stamford Zoning Board of Appeals, a process that includes a public hearing. But there is a $1,000 fee to hold a hearing, a $460 fee to challenge the decision, and a $65 fee to record the appeal in city hall, plus the cost of publishing hearing notices in a newspaper.
However, Beltran said, “adjacent property owners are the only ones allowed to appeal, so we couldn’t do it.”
But Donut Delight did.
Lunney said the owner, Donut Delight Group, filed with the Zoning Board of Appeals on Thursday, along with two residents – one who rents an apartment in a multi-family house across the street and another who rents an apartment on nearby Pine Hill Avenue.
There is no date yet for the public hearing, Lunney said.
“I think the Zoning Board of Appeals will conclude what I concluded, and if it goes to court, a judge will side with the Zoning Board of Appeals,” Lunney said.
He wants to suggest at the hearing that Donut Delight “make adjustments in their parking lot or hire a police officer to direct traffic” when a queue from their drive-thru blocks Hope Street, Lunney said.
“They get about six cars in the queue before four or five come out onto the street,” he said.
Boeger said he spoke to the attorney for Donut Delight.
“He has an argument he seems confident about, but so does Lunney. I want to see what any type of traffic assessment concluded,” Boeger said. “But it’s clear that business owners are doing what they want to do, placing their profits above the functionality and quality of life of citizens. Dunkin’ Donuts without a drive-thru is no problem. With a drive-thru, it will add to the congestion of an already overcrowded area.”