Planning commission questions Dutch Bros coffee chain over permit conditions

Reggie Ellis

Commission narrowly passes permit for Dutch Bros. third location while questioning its ability to meet conditions at its first location

VISALIA – Local residents continue to line up outside Dutch Bros. for its brand of coffee and energy drinks, but it isn’t the caffine that is keeping residents near its Mooney Boulevard location awake at all hours of the night.

The Visalia Planning Commission narrowly approved a permit for Dutch Bros.’ third location at the northeast corner of Demaree Street and Riggin Avenue, but many of the commissioners’ questions were about its first location on Mooney Boulevard. Since opening at the corner of Mooney and Myrtle Street, residents living behind the drive-thru in the Beverly Glen neighborhood have had their lives disrupted by the light, noise and traffic impacts of the business.

Stephen Tootle, a COS history professor who co-hosts this newspaper’s Paper Trail podcast, was the only neighbor to speak at the commission’s meeting after months of addressing the issues before the city council with a handful of neighbors. He said the coffee company’s Mooney Boulevard location is in violation of at least one condition of its drive-thru permit every second of every day since it opened on Dec. 28. He said the drive-thru is just 40 feet from his bedroom window, much less than the 250 foot requirement, the cars, business, and employees violate the noise ordinance’s 60 decibel limit with the exception of 1 to 3 p.m. and when they are closed from 1 to 4 a.m. and the light from signs, the business and cars far exceeds the .5 lumens at his property line.

“I know that they have a special for a white chocolate drink because I can see the lighted sign advertising from my main room, my son’s room, my living room, my bedroom and my guest room,” Tootle said.

Tootle said not only should the planning commission deny the permit before them, they should revoke the permit for their Mooney Boulevard location until they are in full compliance of the original conditions of its permit approved by the planning commission in July 2019. He also called for the city to do a full environmental study, traffic report and noise report for the Mooney Boulevard location.

“It seems rather strange that we will open three more of these when they have not demonstrated that they can operate one of these,” Tootle said. “Perhaps we should make them follow rules that they’re supposed to follow. Otherwise, what are we doing here?”

Commissioner Adam Peck, who lives near the Mooney location, pointedly asked Dennis if the Mooney location was meeting the conditions approved by the commission. Mike Dennis with Dutch Bros. said he was not aware the Mooney location had gone over the 60 decibels, said exterior lighting had been angled toward the ground but was not sure on the brightness of the signs. Peck started to ask if the block wall to reduce noise and glare was the necessary seven feet tall across the length of the property but was warned by City Attorney James Koontz there was no wall proposed for the site on Riggin.

“The issue tonight is the potential conditional proposed conditions for this site, not a review of on the sites on whether or not they’re in compliance with one on Mooney … to the extent whether it would have an impact on what’s being proposed on this site?” Koontz said.

Peck countered that it was within the commission’s jurisdiction to determine if an applicant has shown the ability to follow conditions to determine appropriate conditions at a future site.

Bernal reiterated the permit for the Riggin location was not related to the Mooney location and the two should be handled separately. He did say the city has had internal discussions between staff, city administrators and the city attorney about studying the Mooney location to “verify and substantiate the noise issue.”

“At this point, staff is fully aware, as is city council, on the issues that are occurring at their Mooney location,” Bernal said.

He also said Dutch Bros. has presented a dual, drive-thru line to stack cars that should avoid the line backing up onto the street. Similar to In N Out on Mooney and Walnute, Bernal said drive-thru stacking issues are difficult when lines exceed the expectations of the business. He said the burger chain has gone through several iterations of weaving its line through the parking lot it shares with nearby businesses and continues to reassess in the hopes of finding a solution. Bernal said In N Out is considering a double drive-thru lane to help with their issues, which also may be alleviated with In N Out opens its second location in north Visalia.

Dennis said the developer and the city approved the existing sound wall and have said the business has met all of the conditions of approval for its permit.

“The final answer that I received from the city and the commission was that in meets all conditions of approval, otherwise we would not have gotten a certificate of occupancy,” Dennis said.

Dennis said the best way to address the issues is to open more locations as quickly as possible. Dutch Bros. opened its second location on Akers Street near Tulare Avenue on Friday and has already announced plans to open a fourth location further down Mooney at Visalia Parkway.

“Honestly, I can’t stress enough, the quicker we can get these additional stores open, the better it will be for the entire area.”

Peck and Commissioner Marvin Hansen said they would vote to deny the Riggin site’s permit because they had concerns the city was unprepared for these type of drive-thru businesses, which may become more common in the future, causing unknown traffic impacts across the city.

“A business that is going to have such a big footprint here, I want to make sure we get it right before we start giving permits in other locations,” Peck said. “I don’t have confidence until I see substantial changes in the current site that we can figure out how to do it.”

Commission Sarrah Peariso had similar concerns that there wouldn’t be traffic impacts at the Akers location but felt if more sites opened it would alleviate the problem at Mooney and Myrtle.

“I do think it’s the wrong use on the Mooney site,” Peariso said. “It’s fairly clear that that style of business, where it’s drive thru only, just that location is not working well.”

Peariso voted to approve the project on a motion by Commission Mary Beatie and a second by Chari Chris Gomez. Dutch Bros.’ permit for the Riggin location passed on a 3-2 vote.

Beatie said she felt the business heard the complaints of the residents and were attempting to correct the problem at the Mooney site.

“They know the community is not happy with the way that they have or have not complied with conditions of approval of the other site,” Beatie said. “They know we’re serious. So I give them the benefit of the doubt that they will abide by the conditions for this use.”

Peariso asked what options residents living in the neighborhood had to resolve their issues. Bernal said if city staff verifies there is a violation of the conditions, and if the business refuses to correct the violations, staff would schedule a hearing before the commission to revoke the permit. He explained the Mooney location would have been a by-right development, meaning it would not have required a permit, if the drive-thru was more than 250 feet from residential. If that location’s permit were to be revoked, Dutch Bros. could still operate their walk-up window but not the drive thru.

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