Taco Bell plan gets Planning Commission OK – barely

Benny Westcott

Maybe it wasn’t a corned beef joint, but fans of bean burritos accompanied by the ring of a bell should have felt extra lucky on St. Patrick’s Day, as the Sweet Home Planning Commission approved a conditional use permit for a Taco Bell in Sweet Home at its March 17 meeting.

By a 3-2 vote, the commission approved the permit for a Taco Bell drive-thru to be located at 1502 Main St., just southwest of Safeway. The site currently contains a vacant building, most recently a video store, which will be demolished as part of the Taco Bell development.

Voting in favor were Commissioners Jamie Melcher, Laura Wood and Eva Jurney. In opposition were Chairman Jeffrey Parker and Commissioner Greg Stephens. Commissioners David Lowman and Henry Wolthuis were not in attendance at the meeting.

Commissioners expressed concern at the meeting that a stack of over six cars at the drive-thru would spill out into 15th Avenue or make it more difficult for people to get in and out of parking spaces.

“Our concern is where that traffic is going to go, and if it’s going to be blocking parking spaces or the ingress there,” Wood said.

Wood added that her main concern is the possibility of people wanting to go to Safeway and then getting caught in Taco Bell traffic trying to get in and out of the grocery store’s parking lot.

“What we’re trying to do is avoid that as much as possible,” Wood said. “Because Safeway is our main grocery store and it gets very busy. Safeway probably wouldn’t lose money if people had to wait, but our citizens of Sweet Home would be frustrated.”

Parker said, “When you’re thinking of traffic flow, I think this Taco Bell could outperform Lebanon’s quite easily, Sweet Home being the last city before you cross the pass and the first city coming back, people going to the lake, etc. I think entertaining an idea where you could increase the stack (capacity) in the driveway would be immensely popular. Safeway is already a train wreck at dinner time.”

Parker, a former contractor, suggested laying out the site in another way while still avoiding a utility easement for a wastewater line over the property that cannot be built on.

“I was just really hoping to see another option,” he said at the meeting. “I really do think you could easily orient the building parallel with Main Street, create a 10-car stack, have all your ample parking, and not be over the easements to create that drive-thru.”

Maggie Georgilas, director of real estate for Pacific Bells, the applicant, responded: “Unfortunately, in order to operate our business, the building size has to be what it is and the drive-thru lane has to be the width that it is, and honestly this is really the only plan we can do after we evaluated everything.

“We would have been happy to find something that would have worked that way, but at this point we’ve gone through and exhausted every option, and this is the site plan that Safeway approved.”

Parker reiterated: “I was just hoping that with the continuation of this hearing we were going to see other options and design possibilities for a parking lot, and unfortunately it’s the same drawing.”

Stephens additionally expressed worry that the site did not have enough parking.

“It looks to me like a lot of the parking spaces will be taken up by employees, if you’re at peak capacity,” he said, adding, “If the stack comes through the parking lot, then you lose those parking places because people can’t get in or out of them.”

Parker emphasized that people in the drive-thru blocking 15th Avenue could be punished for it.

“You don’t want to put that burden on your customers,” he told Georgilas. “Blocking the street from a drive-thru is a $900 ticket. You can ask several restaurants about that one.”

Jurney said that all the commissioners had reservations about approving the permit.

“We’ve been handed something that’s done,” she said.

“I think we’re just all expressing some frustration with not having the ability to have more of a say, but I don’t think we have a say unless we just want to not approve the application, and I’m not sure about the wisdom of that.”

“I’m pretty sure some of what we predict will happen,” Jurney continued. “I hope that things can be worked out without a pedestrian having an accident or a car inadvertently being bumped.”

Georgilas did not seem too concerned about the layout’s effect on the business itself.

“Things just kind of happen intuitively with the customer, and if they can’t get in they find a way in,” she said.

The proposed Taco Bell will be single-story, and the building footprint will be approximately 2,056 square feet.

The existing site is 0.62 acres in size and nearly the entire site will be used in conjunction with this redevelopment project. Access to the site will be from 15th Avenue after the driveway opening and pedestrian sidewalk are reconstructed there.

A new pedestrian sidewalk is proposed to connect the site to Main Street. The building will be on the west side of the site with parking to the east.

The facility will be in operation from 8 a.m. to 1 a.m. seven days a week. The anticipated number of employees is 25.