By Colleen Sparks
A battle is brewing once again over Dutch Bros. as neighbors try to stop the coffee business from relocating to another location on Camelback Road, after being ordered to shut down its current location next year.
The drive-through coffee shop at Central Avenue and Camelback Road will close no later than Feb. 28, 2020, according to a private agreement reached by the franchise owner and representatives of nearby businesses after area businesses and neighbors said the coffee hut created traffic and parking issues.
Purpose Driven Development has requested rezoning on a site about 140 feet east of the northeast corner of 3rd Avenue and Camelback Road, where Dutch Bros. would like to set up its new shop, that would remove a special permit that allows for car rental and leasing. A single-family house converted to a car rental office had operated as Enterprise Rental Car from about 1999 to 2011 on the site, according to a city Planning and Development Department staff report. That structure was demolished in 2016.
The request was to change the zoning from Intermediate Commercial, Special Permit, Interim Transit-Oriented Zoning Overlay District One (TOD-1) to Intermediate Commercial to allow commercial uses. The intent of the Interim TOD-1 is to encourage an “appropriate mixture and density of activity around transit stations” to boost ridership along the light rail corridor and to promote alternative transportation modes to cars, the staff report said.
At its meeting in late August, the Alhambra Village Planning Committee voted to recommend the zoning request be denied but the Phoenix Planning Commission in September continued the matter to a later date.
During the Alhambra Village Planning Committee meeting, several residents spoke out against the proposal to allow the rezoning.
Ellen Bilbrey, president of the Medlock Place Historic Neighborhood Association, which sent a letter to planning officials opposing the request to rezone, told the Planning Committee that the Dutch Bros. drive-through would result in vehicles idling in place and hundreds of cars entering and exiting the Dutch Bros. onto Camelback Road, many of which likely would turn onto 3rd Avenue where Medlock neighbors are already frustrated by cut-through traffic.
Rick Mountjoy, chairman of the Traffic Committee for the Medlock Place Historic Neighborhood Association, echoed Bilbrey’s concerns.
“[This request ]foreshadows the typical mechanism of decline of many older neighborhoods in Phoenix,’ Mountjoy said. “We agree with the Federal Transit Administration and the City of Phoenix that this neighborhood become a Walkable Urban Community.”
David Gartner, a parent and neighbor, also opposed the proposed rezoning.
“This is the most walkable place we have in Phoenix,” Gartner said. “Let’s not destroy it.”
While some residents opposed the proposal, Susan Demmitt, the attorney representing Dutch Bros. on behalf of the property owner, spoke in support of it, as did Village Planning Committee member Charles Jones.
“This is really about restoring the ability to develop this property with the underlying uses,” Demmitt said. “We have been in conversations with neighbors for many, many miles. The property is not developable today.”
Jones said the committee needed to consider just the rezoning request to remove the special permit for car rental and leasing, rather than voting based on a future Dutch Bros. He said he did not want to unfairly single out that property so he voted against a motion to recommend denying the rezoning.
“There really is a fairness issue,” Jones said. “I see it as a private property right.”
However, he did not convince others on the committee to support it.
“The owner of the property certainly has rights,” Village Planning Committee member Gary LeBlanc said. “At the same time we’ve got to protect our neighborhoods and the TOD is very specific.”
After the committee voted to recommend denying the zoning change Demmitt said the property owner cannot move forward without the approval.
“We don’t agree with the decision,” Demmitt said. “I think it’s really in reaction to the possibility of Dutch Bros. There’s been a lot of dialogue with the neighbors regarding traffic at that site.”
She said the property is larger than the current Dutch Bros. location at Central Avenue and Camelback Road and the drive-through would be “big enough so traffic doesn’t overflow onto Camelback” Road.
Mountjoy said he, Bilbrey and other neighbors met with city staff members, Demmitt and Dutch Bros. representatives in a private meeting late in August after the Village Planning Committee meeting. He said Dutch Bros. is expected to share a traffic study of how a coffee shop on the proposed site would affect vehicles moving around the neighborhood.
The Phoenix Planning Commission is expected to consider the request at its Oct. 3 meeting and the City Council will likely discuss it Nov. 6.