Popularity of Dutch Bros. Coffee brings on neighborhood challenges

Beverly Glen residents ask city to make changes to Dutch Bros. on Mooney Boulevard to reduce noise, glare and traffic nuisances

VISALIA – Dutch Bros. Coffee is Visalia’s most popular drive-thru these days. In fact, those who live near it would say their popularity is overwhelming.

Since the popular purveyor of caffeinated drinks opened on Dec. 28, cars have been lining up around the building and onto Mooney Boulevard and side streets to order coffee and energy drinks. All of those cars bring in big money for the business but also real issues for the residents, including spotlights and headlights shining into their windows, loud music, revving engines and car stereos blaring until 10 or 11 at night, and cars backed up onto Myrtle Avenue blocking them from getting in and out of their driveways.

“The city is looking at different ways to help alleviate the situation and will be taking some action on it,” Mayor Steve Nelsen said.

Monday was a slow day for Dutch Bros. Coffee drive-thru as the line has frequently backed up onto Mooney Boulevard since it first opened on Dec. 28. The customer enthusiasm is good for business but not so good for residents living behind the coffee chain who say traffic is backing up into their neighborhood from 5 a.m. to 10 p.m. daily.Photo by Ben Irwin

Several residents of the Beverly Glen neighborhood behind the coffee shop spoke during public comment at the Jan. 19 city council meeting about the issues they were having after nearly every city councilmember mentioned receiving a bevy of emails from Beverly Glen residents.

Kari Grant lives at the corner of Edwards Court and Myrtle Avenue just east of Dutch Bros., who admitted to her they were serving about 1,000 cars per day. She said she is happy the business is successful but the noise of the cars and speakers rattles her house, her 11-year-old son can no longer play in the front yard, and she has to put out obstacles to prevent people from parking in her driveway.

“This has become a nuisance and hardship for my family,” Grant said.

Grant’s neighbor, Laura Duarte, said the only peace and quiet she gets are during the six hours from 11 p.m. to 5 a.m. when Dutch Bros. is closed. She said the city required Dutch Bros. to put up a seven-foot block wall to shield the neighborhood from noise and glare but did not take into account the foundation for the business had been raised three feet to address flood plain issues. This essentially makes the wall five feet tall, not tall enough to make an effective barrier. She, along with other residents, suggested making the wall 10 feet tall and asked the city to enforce the noise ordinance for the business and by ticketing the cars in violation.

“Our quality of life has changed drastically,” Duarte said.

Kai Hodges, manager for the Mooney location, said Dutch Bros., has been in contact with all of the homeowners in the neighborhood and apologized for the impacts to the city council. He said he and his staff are working around the clock to find solutions.

“Dutch Bros. is fortunate to have the support of our customers but want the support of our neighbors, too,” Hodges said.

In an interview after the meeting, Dutch Bros. said they have eliminated their outdoor speakers, reduced the volume of their own music inside, angled exterior lights more toward the ground and exterior lighting was placed on timers to automatically shut off during non-business hours. They also added signage to avoid people entering from Mooney Boulevard and added more drive-thru staff members taking orders on tablets as soon as cars enter the drive-thru lane to process orders and move cars in and out quicker. The company said two future locations planned for the corner of Mooney Boulevard and Visalia Parkway and another at Akers Street and Cypress Avenue, should alleviate issues at the current location and they are working to expedite construction on the Akers/Cypress location to reduce traffic as soon as possible.

“Both of these sites are also not directly next to any residential neighborhoods, so we do not anticipate the same concerns with traffic, lighting or sound,” the company said in an emailed statement.

The planning commission approved the conditional use permit for the project on July 8, 2019. The Mooney Boulevard entrance was only added to allow trash and fire access to the site and was never intended to be used for stacking cars in the drive-thru. Customer access was only to be allowed from Myrtle Avenue on the north side of the property, where cars then wrap around the building and exit the property in the same location. The commission also granted a variance to reduce the landscaping distance from both Mooney and Myrtle to accommodate the wraparound drive-thru lane.

At the meeting, staff noted they were not provided information on which coffee shop would be locating at the site. City council member Brett Taylor, who was on the planning commission when the project was originally approved, said if he had known the applicant was Dutch Bros. he would have more to say on the project. While attending college at Fresno State, Taylor remembers when the first Dutch Bros. location opened in Fresno and it had to be relocated due to traffic impacts. News reports show the success of one of the company’s Phoenix locations forced it to relocate in 2019.

“Dutch Bros. is one of those places that is extremely popular and people in Visalia like when new things come to town,” Taylor said this week. “I suspect some of this will calm down when the newness wears off but we need to find a solution in the meantime.”

In 2019, Taylor did ask if the wall could be larger than 7 feet, possibly more than 8 feet, in order to mitigate impacts but staff noted 7 feet was the largest a block wall that could be permitted. The permit was approved on conditions that the business would operate within the noise ordinance, and that no lighting should exceed 0.5 lumens, the equivalent of natural moonlight. The staff report also noted a “traffic engineer analysis of the information provided by the applicant determined that there wouldn’t be any undue impacts to the adjacent roadways that a traffic impact analysis would not be required.”

Stephen Tootle, who also lives on Edwards Court, spoke at the 2019 hearing about landscaping and pedestrian impacts, but also the special parking zone that exists in the neighborhood to prevent commercial impacts on the homes just one parcel off the city’s busiest corridor. He noted that when The Habit was approved, traffic backs up onto Myrtle and blocked the side street into the residential neighborhood and warned the same thing may happen for the then unnamed coffee shop. Despite pleas from commissioners, staff said Caltrans would not approve the Mooney Boulevard entrance for both ingress and egress because it is too close to the next entrance of the former Sight and Sound building and they are trying to limit turning onto and off of Mooney, which is the southern portion of State Route 63.

“This is going to turn Myrtle into essentially the driveway of this business,” Tootle said. “This will create some problems in the Mooney corridor and in the neighborhood that will require some sort of mitigation down the road.”

At last week’s meeting, Tootle said the business is only supposed to exceed the noise ordinance one minute per hour but is in violation “almost all day, every day.” He commended the business for making the effort to correct what they can but also said the current conditions make it impossible for Dutch Bros. to follow city code and be a good neighbor. He asked the city to consider changing the language of the permit to allow them to build a wall that is seven feet from the elevation of their back yards, something Dutch Bros. has informally agreed to do, and approve it as quickly as possible.

“When they come with plans, tell them it’s okay so we can get this going,” Tootle said.

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