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Gilroy
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August 13, 2022

Neighbors worry over Starbucks drive-thru

City Council to revisit rules

Gilroy is getting a new Starbucks coffee outlet—just across the street from a separate Starbucks—in what will be the city’s eighth location.

While the new business at 778 First St.—already under construction—will come as no surprise to anyone familiar with the giant chain’s ubiquitous brand, it is an unwelcome addition for residents of the Oak Commons neighborhood, who say the addition of a drive-thru will place idling vehicles within 20 feet of their backyards.  

That is in sharp contrast to San Jose, which bans drive-thru businesses from within 200 feet from residences, says neighbor Adrienne Rodriguez.

She says that problem is worsened in her neighborhood, whose small backyards will do nothing to quell the noise and exhaust from the vehicles and the speaker system. The retaining walls, she adds, were not built with such a development in mind.

Rodriguez adds that her concerns—and pleas to developer Craig Filice of the Glen Loma Group and Starbucks—fell on deaf ears.

“It’s incredible where the city’s priorities lie,” she said. “I’ve read through the planning report and not once did they consider the homeowners.” 

Starbucks has told her the new business will increase property values, which she says comes as cold comfort for her.

“Does anybody want to live this close to a drive-thru?” she said. 

Instead, she says the coffee giant told her that the company—and other restaurants—are increasingly shifting to drive-thru models based on changing customer demands.

“Cities that don’t allow drive-thrus do it to protect their citizens, but unfortunately Gilroy doesn’t have anything like that, so we’re just ripe for developers to come in and do what they please,” Rodriguez said.

That could change soon.

The Gilroy City Council, taking heed of neighbors’ concerns, will this summer consider changes to city ordinances that govern drive-thru establishments.

Mayor Marie Blankley declined to comment on the specifics of that discussion before it comes to the Council, but said, “it is important to listen to the concerns of citizens in a public hearing setting so that the interests of all concerned may be expressed and balanced.”

The City of Gilroy currently allows drive-thru businesses in its commercial zoned districts, with such development projects requiring only ministerial approval. 

When one is proposed, staff looks at aspects of the project such as the area that will be needed for the drive-thru line, how the communication system might impact neighbors and whether the zoning is appropriate for the site, says Interim Community Development Director Jon Biggs.

He points out that some impacts such as vehicle exhaust are to be expected, since the residences are next to a commercial site.

This includes a Walgreens drug store that also has a drive-thru, in place since the early 2000s.

“This commercial area does allow for drive-thrus like the one Starbucks has currently got under construction,” he said. 

Biggs says the city has worked with the Starbucks corporation and developer Glen Loma Group to shorten the line that will be in the drive-thru, and to quiet the speakers used in the ordering system. 

The project includes 4,016 square feet of floor area, with 1,505 square feet of retail space and a 2,511-square-foot coffee shop with a drive-up window. The drive-thru lane will accommodate a queue length of eight vehicles.

A study for the City of Gilroy by EMC Planning Group, Inc. estimates the new establishment will generate 840 average daily vehicles, although it is unclear how many of those would use the drive-thru.

The project earned a mitigated negative declaration, meaning it is not expected to have adverse environmental impacts.

Rodriguez says that Filice also once owned the property where Oak Commons now sits, but sold it to be developed. That neighborhood, now controlled by a homeowners association (HOA), is connected to the business via First Street via an easement.

Neither Starbucks nor project developer Filice responded to multiple calls and an email for comment.

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