A rendering of a proposed drive-thru Starbucks in Palm Springs
The Palm Springs City Council recently denied an application for a drive-thru Starbucks at the intersection of North Palm Canyon Drive and Racquet Club Road. (Rendering courtesy of Kaidence Group, LLC)

The Palm Springs City Council last month voted to reject a proposal for a drive-thru Starbucks at the intersection of North Palm Canyon Drive and Racquet Club Road.

“This is a project that was before you about a month ago, and you gave staff and the applicant direction of 90 days to work together to improve the project and to also reach out to the community to further understand their concerns and interest in the project,” Ken Lyons, principal planner, said at the Feb. 29 meeting. “That work has occurred.”

The project, as initially proposed, was a standalone drive-thru only Starbucks location in the corner of a vacant site that’s part of a former shopping center adjacent to a Del Taco. The council, as well as the surrounding community, felt that the project lacked pedestrian-friendly accommodations, bicycle parking, a community gathering space and, as Lyon’s put it, a “friendly community vibe.”

In order to address the concerns, the applicant worked with city staff and community members to bring forward a revised proposal that changed the building’s orientation, addressed concerns with its drive-thru entrance and exits, added a walk-up window, public restroom, covered outdoor patio space and a community gathering space along with landscape enhancements.

“They’ve done extensive landscaping with shade trees throughout not only around the parking, as required by our parking code, but also around the entire perimeter of the property,” Lyons said. “They have increased the amount of parking, it is for nine vehicles now, however, there still is no indoor dining room.” 

Lyons said that since this intersection is an important one within the city — it’s considered a “primary node” within the general plan — there are additional goals tied to development in the area such as having visually unique and attractive architecture, providing a sense of arrival and acting as a hub of social and commercial activity.

“So it is more than simply, I think, a question of how do you fill out the corner,” Lyons said. “It’s really understanding the vision for this particular intersection within the greater vision of the city’s general plan.”

Mayor Jeffrey Bernstein agreed, noting that, while the area is in need of development, not all development is good development, especially when it doesn’t conform to the city’s long-term goals.

“We have to sort of think in terms of long-term planning, and it’s hard when we don’t have all the elements on the table, but that is what I feel that we should be doing as a city and looking at what we want the area to be long-term,” he said. “And I don’t believe that this actually fits into what we would find the [best] future use of this area.”

Along with questions about how the proposed project would fit in with the city’s long-term development plans were also concerns about how the project fit in with the city’s long-term sustainability goals.

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“One of the things that we discussed in our strategic planning was making sure that sustainability was a focus in all of the projects that we’re doing,” Councilmember Grace Elena Garner said. “We have been making steps towards things like this in reducing emissions via traffic, but we sometimes fall short, and so I would really like to see us actually really focused on how do we reduce traffic in this city.”

Councilmember Lisa Middleton agreed that the city should try to reduce traffic in the city, but felt that it should be done through the planning process.

“I’m reluctant to see us, on a project-by-project basis, reject a project simply because it does facilitate automobile traffic,” she said. “I think we all recognize that there is a significant amount of automobile traffic at that intersection — along with many, many other intersections — and it behooves us to be friendly to the individuals who are in those automobiles and seeking this kind of amenity.”

Planning Director Christopher Hadwin said the department was embarking on a comprehensive zoning update, in which the city could have a larger conversation about drive-thrus in the city.

“I think that’s probably the vehicle by which we should have that conversation,” he said. 

The developer of the project, Kayman Wong, said that with the redesign, his hope was that the project would become a “positive contributor to the community.”

“We want to be a part of the solution here on this corner,” he said. “We believe that what we’ve shown and developed here is a great start to that re-gentrification of this corner, and we hope that you agree.”

Ultimately, the council voted 4-1 to deny the project, with Middleton voting against, and directed city staff to bring back the appropriate resolution on the matter at a future council meeting.

“I still am of the opinion that it’s a great idea,” Mayor Pro Tem Ron deHarte said. “It’s a great concept for the city of Palm Springs, it just needs to be in another location.”

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