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After many delays and an appeal, the issue of a redesigned Taco Bell with a new drive-through will finally be decided at Tuesday night's City Council meeting.
The Taco Bell, located at 5641 Freeport Blvd. near Fruitridge Road, was built in 1977 without a drive-through and has not seen a major change since. Taco Bell applied for a permit to rebuild the facility and add a drive-through, and the city's Planning Commission voted 6-4 to allow the building during a Feb. 11 meeting. However, the property is adjacent to a residential neighborhood, and many residents in that neighborhood are worried that this new drive-through will lead to increased noise, pollution and trash in their backyards.
Some of the residents have taken an active role in fighting the installation of a drive-through, including Kathleen Barber, a resident whose backyard is separated from the Taco Bell property by a 6-foot masonry wall that runs along the eastern border of the Taco Bell property. Barber paid $300 to appeal the Planning Commission's decision to the City Council. Barber's husband, Joe Verderber, said that the addition of this drive-through will violate certain city guidelines.
"Flat out, the proposed Taco Bell doesn't meet the city's own guidelines and regulations for drive-throughs," he said, citing a regulation in the city's zoning ordinance. The regulation says that, with regard to drive-throughs, "The design and location of the facility will not create a nuisance for adjacent properties." The neighborhood's residents say that having a drive-through so close to their homes will create a nuisance by adding noise and pollution to an area right next to their backyards.
One issue that resident Ted Soria is worried about is an increase in trash being thrown over the masonry wall due to the extra traffic.
"People throw stuff into my yard," he said. "I've found syringes, sexual devices, drug bags and garbage like that in my own backyard."
A major concern residents had was a substantial increase in noise. Even though the current plan for the new Taco Bell includes adding trees to the property, two feet to the height of the masonry wall and a smaller wall around the ordering talk-box, Barber is worried that all the traffic noise will be unbearable.
"They're telling us, through their testing, that we're not going to hear anything from a drive-through," she said. "We can hear the traffic from Freeport Blvd. already."
"That wall does nothing. All it does is make sure no one drives into your backyard," added neighbor Robert Messing.
Verderber said that in addition to creating a nuisance, the proposed Taco Bell does not meet spacing guidelines. According to those guidelines, the property has to be a half-acre or more, but the proposed Taco Bell is 238 square feet short of a half-acre. Verderber added that, in addition to all these violations, the proposed Taco Bell would lower the value of his home by $20,000, according to a real estate agent's estimate.
"The size of the lot doesn't meet their own guidelines, and neither does the parking," he said. "It is a nuisance to the neighborhood, and it devalues the property."
This isn't the first time the neighbors have had to fight against a Taco Bell drive-through. In 2006, the same Taco Bell applied for a similar rebuilding, but was denied a permit by the city's Planning Commission due to the neighbors' concerns.
"We went through this in 2006. Back then, they said that it was bad planning and clearly violated the nuisance to residential neighborhoods guidelines." said Barber, adding that she thinks some of the newer members on the Planning Commission don't get it. Barber said that at the Feb. 11 meeting, despite voicing their concerns and presenting the commission with a 200-name petition, their voice was ignored.
"At that meeting, we felt like our neighborhood didn't matter," she said.
Despite their concerns, the people with Taco Bell claim that that the proposed project meets most city regulations, and the ones that it doesn't meet where granted a special exemption from the Planning Commission. While Taco Bell franchise owner Dave Smith of D.G. Smith Enterprises declined to comment, Planning Facilitator Linda Budge said that Taco Bell management is doing what it could to make sure any impact on the neighborhood will be minimal.
Budge said that the operating hours for Taco Bell will end at 10 p.m. to mitigate late-night noise, and there will be a sign asking customers to turn down their music with a security guard to enforce that policy, in addition to the other modifications.
Budge said that the light posts will have limits on their height and have a shoebox covering that points the light directly down, not out. Also, she said that evergreen trees will be planted to contain the bleeding over of light and sound.
"Our goal is that the neighbors will not be able to see or hear the project," she said, adding that just over the weekend the plans were modified to allow for a greater distance between the eastern masonry wall and the drive-through lane. The extra distance will be full of bushes and shrubs, which are intended to help with the trash problem so patrons won't be able to drive right next to the wall like they can now.
According to Budge, the rebuilding of the Taco Bell is required for the franchise to continue its contract with the Taco Bell Corporation.
"This Taco Bell is under franchise agreement. Without the drive-through lane, the franchise will expire at the end of 2010, and the site could be lost," she said, adding that the building is old and needs to be updated to meet new building codes and regulations anyway.
Budge also said the new Taco Bell will have a positive effect on the local economy with 15 extra jobs being added at that location and extra taxes going to the city.
"We don't want to add to the retail vacancy that everyone is suffering right now," she added.
While both sides will be arguing their positions at the City Council meeting, Councilman Rob Fong, whose district the Taco Bell and neighborhood are in, said he hasn't yet come to a decision on how he will vote. Fong added that he has an open mind and will hold his decision until he hears everything both sides have to say.
"I hope we'll get to a place where we can come to some sort of agreement tomorrow night," he said.
Verderber, however, is hoping the council will understand the concerns of the neighbors and side with them.
"The point is," he said, "would you want a drive-through in your backyard?"
Jonathan Mendick and Kathleen Haley contributed to this story
Photo captions (Photos 1 - 5 taken by Jonathan Mendick; 6 - 7 by Stephen Gillis)
1. Joe Verderber stands in front of the Taco Bell at Fruitridge and Freeport
2. The view of Taco Bell from Kathleen Barber's backyard
3. Ted Soria standing next to the current 6 foot masonry wall separating his property from the Taco Bell parking lot
4. Trash found on the resident's side of the wall
5. More trash
6. The new style of Taco Bell that would be built. This particular restaurant is on Bradshaw Road
7. A side view of the new Taco Bell style