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Drive-through 'ban' lands in middle of land-use plan tussle

(Image is Clickable Link) COURTESY PHOTO - A social media campaign launched this week warns that the city is planning to ban drive-throughs in the update of its land-use plan. That isn't true, says Sara Hottman, spokeswoman for Mayor Charlie Hales.Is the city of Portland planning to ban all drive-throughs?

Not really.

A new social media campaign that popped up this week is sounding the ban-the-drive-through alarm ahead of a Thursday evening City Council hearing in hopes of altering sections of the months-long comprehensive land-use plan update that could make it more difficult for some businesses to build drive-throughs.

Just listen to the nearly desperate voices on three videos posted at the Stop The Ban PDX website and Facebook page, and you’ll get the idea that the city’s new land-use plan changes could mean no more drive-through fast-food places, no more drive-through banks and no more drive-through pharmacies or grocery outlets.

(Videos were produced by a company led by former state Sen. Jason Atkinson.)

According to the campaign, it’s a world where the elderly, the disabled and people with young children are out of luck. One video features former state Sen. Margaret Carter of Northeast Portland, who worries that senior citizens like her could face hardships if a drive-through ban is enacted.

“We’re not going to ban or close existing drive-throughs,” said Sara Hottman, spokeswoman for Mayor Charlie Hales. “The mayor’s goal is to create pedestrian and bicycle-friendly areas in the central city and elsewhere. Drive-throughs encourage driving and create traffic, causing conflicts in areas where we want a lot of foot traffic.”



Flexible proposals

The fight isn’t new. For nearly 20 years, city zoning codes have limited new drive-through developments in business districts with a lot of pedestrian traffic. Some proposed changes include encouraging new commercial projects to orient toward sidewalks and transit systems, rather than parking lots and drive-throughs, Hottman said.

The social media campaign backed by a business coalition led by the Oregon Restaurant and Lodging Association, was aimed at an amendment to the land-use plan update that would prohibit drive-throughs in the busy central city and in business corridors where planners wanted to encourage pedestrian and bicycle traffic. The amendment offered by Hales is among dozens of others to be discussed during an April 14 City Council public hearing on the land-use plan update, 6 p.m., in the Portland Building auditorium, 1120 S.W. Fifth Ave.

Launched Tuesday morning on the Web and on Facebook, the nearly anonymous campaign had one stark message: tell Hales to call off the ban on drive-throughs.

“The goal is to make Portlanders understand that their daily lives could be impacted by this change,” said Jason Brandt, president and chief executive officer of the Oregon Restaurant and Lodging Association. “This goes far beyond restaurants.”

Even though the city’s proposed land-use change isn’t going to actually ban all drive-throughs, Brandt said many in the association worried that remodeling or retrofitting their businesses could mean more restrictions on their drive-throughs.

“We would be open to any proposals that are flexible and allow businesses to make changes,” he said. “The key is to make sure that businesses who are growing or adapting don’t have to change what they’ve been doing in the past to meet the requirements.”

Within a couple hours after the campaign began, Hottman said the mayor’s office heard from several people who were worried about the possible drive-through ban. By the end of Tuesday, Bureau of Planning and Sustainability staff had put together a 10-point fact sheet to counter the campaign, outlining existing city rules and possible land-use changes affecting future development.

“The mayor is not trying to eliminate all drive-throughs everywhere in Portland,” Hottman said. “He understands that there are people who have other needs than him and drive-throughs are a part of that.”


Kevin L. Harden is digital media editor for Pamplin Media Group. 503-546-5167. email: This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it.
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Here is the Bureau of Planning and Sustainability's drive-through fact sheet:

• We are not actually banning or otherwise forcing the closure of existing drive throughs.

• The issue is about policy and regulations that pertain to future new development.

• The Portland Zoning Code already strictly limits new drive-through development in the Central City and in many pedestrian-oriented commercial areas. Those regulations have been in place for 20 years.

• Portland's development regulations encourage new development that is oriented to public sidewalks, and transit stops, rather than parking lots and drive-through facilities.

• These existing regulations promote pedestrian safety and make it easier for transit riders to get around.

• Auto-oriented retail (fast food in particular) generates a lot of traffic that can disrupt neighborhoods.

• Safety is a factor, because frequent curb cuts and large parking lots increase the number of conflicts between cars and pedestrians, making it more dangerous to walk.

• Many seniors, youth and people with disabilities rely on public transportation to get around. The city's development regulations make it easier for them to get to their destinations. In cities without these regulations, shopping centers and commercial areas often lack sidewalk connections to the street, and bus stops are often located in remote corners of the site.

• Drive-through facilities will continue to have a role in the future Portland, but new drive-through facilities should continue to be carefully regulated in Portland's historic pedestrian-oriented commercial areas and main streets.

• This issue is coming up now because the City is reviewing and updating its Comprehensive Plan and Commercial Zoning regulations. Commercial development interests have launched an advertising campaign against the city's strong development regulations, and they are asking the city to loosen rules about the design of new commercial development.