Starbucks wants to add another drive-thru store in downtown Fresno, and city staff has signed off on the plan.
But, two appeals are raising traffic and environmental concerns, which the Planning Commission will hear Wednesday evening at City Hall.
The coffee purveyor plans to build on a 7,300-square-foot vacant lot formerly occupied by El Torito restaurant at 2840 Tulare Street, between R and S streets. The once-popular El Torito closed and was demolished during the pandemic.
It would be the fourth Starbucks within a mile radius. The locations at Divisadero and U streets, and Tulare and First also have drive-thrus.
“There is no law or code which prohibits companies from opening additional locations within a given distance to other locations,” the city said in documents, responding to the appeal.
Starbucks expects 1,100 daily visits to the drive-thru, and it could accommodate 17 vehicles, city staff reports said.
“A larger drive-through helps to better control drive-through traffic during peak hours, and guides cars waiting in line away from parking stalls, drive-aisles, and pedestrian walkways,” city staff said.
Appeal: Traffic and Environmental Concerns
Two appeal letters came from residents of a nearby condominium complex.
“Fresno’s air is known to be one of the worst in the state and nation,” appellants Larry Taylor and Jeri Starkweather wrote. “An additional 2 tons of NOx and PM10 per year is unacceptable for the residents living in the path of prevailing northwesterly winds.”
The pair suggested that coffee customers park their cars and pick up drinks from a pick-up window.
The city said idling cars would not result “in any significant effects to air quality.” The city also believes that a new Starbucks would not exceed significant traffic thresholds, nor exceed noise standards.
Sean Boyd, a one-time Fresno TV weatherman and current college geography instructor, said the store’s location is likely to cause traffic problems and concerns for pedestrians. He did not accept the city’s findings that a new Starbucks would not create “significant effects” on traffic.
“The congested and stalled traffic scenario … would degrade the pedestrian environment (and) would clearly be a problem for inbound morning weekday commuter traffic. Perhaps the reason this project ‘was not required by the Department of Public Works Traffic Division to produce a Traffic Impact Study’ suggests that the City of Fresno Public Works Department criteria for such a study is extremely weak, and insufficient, and requires more scrutiny and vigor,” Boyd wrote.
Boyd, speaking to GV Wire, questioned how many drive-thrus are being built in the city. He expects the Planning Commission to deny his appeal.
Vehicles miles traveled, a relatively new standard in determining traffic increases, would go down, according to a report from JLB Traffic Engineering, Inc.
“A person looking to purchase a product from a Starbucks will generally travel to the closest available location. Therefore, no one would need to travel further than 2.25 miles (4.5 miles / 2 = 2.25 miles) in this area,” the report said.
A nearby business sent a letter of support to the city.
Robert Ellis Leasing & Investments, Inc. owns the property across the street from the proposed Starbucks.
“To foster continued economic and community development, we as a city need to be pro-business especially when it comes to infill development in our downtown area,” Robert Ellis and Diane Ellis wrote.
Starbucks estimates up to six people would work at the store at a given time, but did not say how many would be hired in total.