WEST HARTFORD — Restaurant drive-thru facilities will now be allowed in more places in town.
The town council unanimously approved an ordinance amending the town’s current zoning standards to allow restaurant drive-thru facilities in parts of town that didn’t allow them previously, specifically in the town’s general business district.
Todd Dumais, the town planner, said Tuesday night that the general business district zone consists of Corbins Corner, Bishops Corner, a linear strip along Park Road and New Britain Avenue from South Main Street to the Hartford line. Until now, restaurant drive-thrus were only allowed in the general industrial district and the restricted industrial district zones in the southeastern part of town.
“The ordinance before the council...was designed as a form of control,” Dumais said. “It imposes a set of standards.”
West Hartford allows for three types of drive-thru uses: banks, pharmacies and restaurants. Currently, Dumais said, there are 22 total uses of drive-thrus, including 15 banks, two pharmacies and five restaurants. Drive-thrus were first approved for restaurants in 1991 and later for pharmacies in 2005.
Dumais said the idea to increase the usage for restaurants into more vehicle-heavy areas came out of the pandemic and the need restaurants had to limit indoor sales.
The ordinance passed by the town council also comes with a set of restrictions outside of location too, meaning being in the general business district zone alone doesn’t qualify.
“It establishes location requirements, recognizing that perhaps all of those locations may not be appropriate for a drive thru, it requires that a drive thru restaurant would have to be on a lot greater than a half acre in size,” Dumais said. “It would have to have frontage...on one of our busier roadways. Think North and South Main Street, Albany Avenue, New Britain Avenue.”
A key piece of the ordinance is the requirement to be at least 200 feet away from residential abutters.
For instance, the existing McDonald’s in Bishop’s Corner, although it is in a location newly zoned for a drive-thru, would need to construct a new facility pulled away from the residential area that sits behind it to be eligible for a drive-thru.
The ordinance also places a restriction that drive-thru business can’t be conducted between 11 p.m. and 5 a.m.
Mayor Shari Cantor said the restrictions in place were important to protect the town.
“As a result of COVID, we are really reimagining our brick and mortar,” Cantor said. “I immediately thought about...how drive thru pharmacies were really important. It showed that we were not as flexible in certain ways as maybe the times needed us to be. There’s a balance and protection...of the walkability of West Hartford. That is one of our gem qualities and we don’t want to deteriorate that. That’s important.”
Deputy Mayor Leon Davidoff said the ordinance was a response to what he sees happening across the country, which includes fast food restaurants and fast casual restaurants building smaller drive-thru only facilities.
“During COVID we noticed that businesses needed to pivot,” Davidoff said. “Our intention...was not to do harm to our community or suggest that West Hartford was going to become a mecca of drive thru establishments.”
Davidoff said the town needed to update its zoning standards “to be relevant to the times we live in.”
“There’s nothing worse than having a zoning code of ordinance that is outdated and doesn’t meet the needs of our community,” he said. “That’s how we approached the entire thing. I do believe this change will be viewed in a positive light. It will bring architectural advancements to our community. There are people who want to come to West Hartford...and have these kinds of businesses.”