How North Park Went from Drive-Thru to Drive-To

How North Park Went from Drive-Thru to Drive-To

Photo by Sam Hodgson

The Jack in the Box at Upas and 30th streets secured the long-term future of its drive-thru when Development Services approved a permit to remodel the structure, rather than requiring a permit to rebuild.

For a few years North Park’s been San Diego’s most-talked about neighborhood. It’s basically ground zero for the city’s touted craft beer industry, makes national “hippest neighborhood” lists and functions as the proving ground for urbanist trends like parklets and bike corrals.

And for the last few years, North Park’s also been the battlefield for an ongoing fight over drive-thrus.

“It’s a classic case of a community re-imagining itself into a walkable, bikable community, and dealing with the legacy of its previous drive-thru, auto-oriented culture,” said Bruce Appleyard, a city planning professor at San Diego State University whose research focuses on bike- and pedestrian-friendly streets.

North Park has neighborhood-specific zoning that precludes drive-thrus from opening in certain areas and made it so getting a permit for any new one required a public hearing and community feedback. But those restrictions haven’t kept the community from fighting off unwanted projects.

Each of those fights has brought with it its own set of circumstances, mostly dealing with whether the city’s Development Services Department followed proper protocol.

But why, specifically, have residents and the local planning group drawn a line in the sand against drive-thrus, and why hasn’t that line effectively prevented new ones from opening?

In short: They’re a nuisance that no longer fit the new, hipper North Park, and the zoning restrictions are too vague.

Most recently, the issue came up late last month when a sign on University Avenue declared a new Arby’s restaurant was destined for the site.

The community mobilized against the project quickly, and the issue might be working itself out: The sign’s been taken down and city staffers say nothing’s been approved.

Earlier in the year, though, the Jack in the Box at Upas and 30th streets secured the long-term future of its drive-thru when Development Services approved a permit to remodel the structure, rather than requiring a harder-to-secure permit to rebuild. A lawsuit challenging the city’s decision is currently pending.

And in a 2007 fight over the KFC at University Avenue and Utah Street, owners likewise tore down the existing structure and rebuilt from scratch without going through a review process. The end result was a commercial structure that doesn’t hug the sidewalk, as local zoning requires, and is instead set back, with a parking lot between the building and pedestrians.

Members of North Park’s volunteer planning group, including board chair Vicki Granowitz, are also upset about a nearly completed drive-thru at 32nd Street and North Park Way.

Those confrontations took place despite the existence of the Mid-City Communities Planned District Ordinance, which added zoning requirements in the North Park area that restricted drive-thrus from certain areas, and forced those proposed in allowable locations to get community feedback first, rather than following a basic review by a Development Services staffer.

The neighborhood-specific zoning hasn’t been effective, Granowitz said, because despite its intentions, it remains vague and inconclusive, leaving city employees to make subjective interpretations.

“The zoning alone isn’t enough to make it a not-gonna-happen kinda thing,” she said. “It gives wiggle room. There are so many vague areas where you can manipulate it. It just isn’t clear enough.”

What’s needed, she said, is language in North Park’s community plan that specifically says residents do not want drive-thrus in particular areas.

“That doesn’t mean we don’t believe there are locations where they’re appropriate,” she said. “We’re not opposed to all of them. They just have to make sense.”

The community is in the midst of the lengthy process of updating its plan, and hopes to address the issues that have cropped up with the neighborhood-specific zoning. It wants to outline in the new plan that the community doesn’t want drive-thrus in specific areas.

Granowitz said the group is working with business groups and community members to determine where to draw the lines.

“I think it’s important to note that North Park is not trying to ban drive-thrus,” said Kathleen Ferrier, a North Park resident and policy manager for WalkSanDiego who supports the effort to rid the University corridor of the car-first restaurants to create more pedestrian-friendly areas.

But, she said, North Park needs to be aware of the different income groups that live there.

“We can’t get rid of lower-cost food,” she said. “It’s not socially equitable. Now, fast food is not the perfect example, because we need healthy food too, but it’s important that we can’t speak to just one economic group.”

The opposition to drive-thrus comes down to a few concerns for those who live closest to the restaurants, as well as overall issues with the ways auto-centric establishments conflict with North Park’s thriving urban sensibility.

The first set of issues has to do with how many of North Park’s commercial corridors are located right next to residential communities, without much area for transition.

“For the adjacent neighbors, it’s that they’re constantly being woken up by the microphone, constantly have to clean up, even though they live in a residential community,” Granowitz said.

But the larger, community-wide issue, she said, is the safety issues drive-thrus present as North Park becomes more of a place for people on two feet or two wheels.

“With the exponential increase in multi-modal transportation going on in North Park, we have so many dangerous situations there,” she said.

Appleyard said there are many academic studies confirming the correlation between additional drive-ways, whether for food-service windows or residential garages, and accidents between vehicles, pedestrians, cyclists and other vehicles.

“In general it just makes it a more hazardous area,” he said.

But that hazard is especially problematic if North Park’s going to continue to be a place where people walk from a make-your-own-succulent-display store to a craft beer bar to a farm-to-table-restaurant.

“The real question is: Do you want a place you drive through, or one you drive to?” said Appleyard. “That’s what North Park and all those neighborhoods want to be now. They’re becoming a destination in and of themselves. They’re evolving from an auto-oriented, drive-through culture to a drive-to culture that you walk around.”

Howard Blackson, an urban planner who’s on the board of the North Park Planning Committee, has argued there’s economic incentive to embracing that drive-to culture.

Urban, rather than suburban, land uses generate a higher return on investment, in terms of tax revenue, he said.

He pointed to last year’s sale of the Uptown District Shopping Center in Hillcrest for $81 million, the largest retail sale in San Diego County in 2012.

At the time, the real estate investor who negotiated the transaction said the price indicated demand for multi-tenant, urban properties, the opportunity for which is diminished when high-value sites along University Avenue are instead occupied by single-tenant stores surrounded by a parking lot, and a drive-thru.

Correction: An earlier version of this story incorrectly identified when the Mid-City Communities Planned District Ordinance was adopted.

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Andrew Keatts

Andrew Keatts

I'm Andrew Keatts, a reporter for Voice of San Diego. Please contact me if you'd like at andrew.keatts@voiceofsandiego.org or 619.325.0529.

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65 comments
Brian Peterson
Brian Peterson

This doesn’t necessarily speak to the issue of the drive-thru, but a couple of years ago an article in the U-T gave credit to the construction of the parking garage on 30th Street, and by extension the automobile, for North Park revitalization. Maybe planners should not be so quick to write cars out of community plans.North Park's urban Renaissancehttp://www.utsandiego.com/news/2011/Jun/27/north-park-q/?#article-copyRoger Lewis Title: Chair of the North Park Project Area Committee Education: BA in ecological and evolutionary biology from UCSD Masters in city planning from SDSU Last book you read: The Nine by Jeffrey Toobin. Last movie you saw: I tried to see Sup...

Brian Peterson
Brian Peterson subscriber

This doesn’t necessarily speak to the issue of the drive-thru, but a couple of years ago an article in the U-T gave credit to the construction of the parking garage on 30th Street, and by extension the automobile, for North Park revitalization. Maybe planners should not be so quick to write cars out of community plans.North Park's urban Renaissancehttp://www.utsandiego.com/news/2011/Jun/27/north-park-q/?#article-copyRoger Lewis Title: Chair of the North Park Project Area Committee Education: BA in ecological and evolutionary biology from UCSD Masters in city planning from SDSU Last book you read: The Nine by Jeffrey Toobin. Last movie you saw: I tried to see Sup...

Jim Jones
Jim Jones

If the residents really are against drive thrus, then they will all go out of business in short order and the problem will be solved.

Jim Jones
Jim Jones subscriber

If the residents really are against drive thrus, then they will all go out of business in short order and the problem will be solved.

Brian Peterson
Brian Peterson

Wow. That's just like being on the campus at UC Davis...minus the pepper spray.

David Crossley
David Crossley

Brian--I've been to Portland. If you are a pedestrian, you take your life in your hands trying to avoid the cyclists up there.

paul jamason
paul jamason

I don't think North Park planners are writing cars out of community plans, but they are trying to reduce the dominance of cars throughout the neighborhood. This makes it a more interesting place to visit since the pedestrian (and cycling) experience there has improved.

An example of the opposite approach is in Grantville, where commenter Peterson led opposition to transit-oriented redevelopment and advocated building more roads. Established residents in neighboring Allied Gardens have always traveled exclusively by car and can't fathom that new residents might take some trips by foot, bike or public transit. De-emphasizing the car in Grantville would just make their strip mall sweeps less convenient.

Today Grantville remains a place you "drive thru" while North Park thrives. Thankfully North Park planners embraced change instead of Peterson's status quo philosophy.

Derek Hofmann
Derek Hofmann

The parking garage helped relieve the shortage of parking and revitalize the neighborhood, but at a price of tens of thousands of dollars per parking space, there are ways to achieve the same result of increasing accessibility that are vastly less expensive.

Brian Peterson
Brian Peterson subscriber

Wow. That's just like being on the campus at UC Davis...minus the pepper spray.

David Crossley
David Crossley subscriber

Brian--I've been to Portland. If you are a pedestrian, you take your life in your hands trying to avoid the cyclists up there.

paul jamason
paul jamason subscribermember

I don't think North Park planners are writing cars out of community plans, but they are trying to reduce the dominance of cars throughout the neighborhood. This makes it a more interesting place to visit since the pedestrian (and cycling) experience there has improved.

An example of the opposite approach is in Grantville, where commenter Peterson led opposition to transit-oriented redevelopment and advocated building more roads. Established residents in neighboring Allied Gardens have always traveled exclusively by car and can't fathom that new residents might take some trips by foot, bike or public transit. De-emphasizing the car in Grantville would just make their strip mall sweeps less convenient.

Today Grantville remains a place you "drive thru" while North Park thrives. Thankfully North Park planners embraced change instead of Peterson's status quo philosophy.

Derek Hofmann
Derek Hofmann subscribermember

The parking garage helped relieve the shortage of parking and revitalize the neighborhood, but at a price of tens of thousands of dollars per parking space, there are ways to achieve the same result of increasing accessibility that are vastly less expensive.

Howard Blackson
Howard Blackson

Today (as opposed to 1975), Drive-Thru, Fast Food, regional-serving restaurants have a place in North Park.... nearer the freeway corridor off-ramps. As these businesses serve fast drivers from across the region. 30th Street is one of the very few North/South connectors between NP/Golden Hill, which serves a lot of people, but isn't regional, isn't fast, and passes through several primarily residential neighborhoods. Neighborhoods are not great places for drive-thru, fast food, regional-serving restaurants, but they are great for elementary schools, dog parks, and corner stores that people drive, bike, walk and take the bus to. Because these are different places (Freeway corridor versus Neighborhood Center) a one-size-fits-all regulatory approach to all confuses freedom of choice with freedom from choice (yes, I quoted Devo).

Derek Hofmann
Derek Hofmann

"everyone gets the same benefit from a restaurant, although the quantity purchased against the need may vary."

So in other words, the list of benefits are the same for everyone, but the magnitude of each benefit varies.

"no one forces you to live in any particular spot"

If someone builds a drive-through after you've moved in, then they've wronged you, even if your city allows it.

Eric Spoerner
Eric Spoerner

I think part of the point here is that the residents themselves don't have to use the drive-thru for it to be successful. It's a business that can accomodate people that are just, you know, "driving through".

Howard Blackson
Howard Blackson subscribermember

Today (as opposed to 1975), Drive-Thru, Fast Food, regional-serving restaurants have a place in North Park.... nearer the freeway corridor off-ramps. As these businesses serve fast drivers from across the region. 30th Street is one of the very few North/South connectors between NP/Golden Hill, which serves a lot of people, but isn't regional, isn't fast, and passes through several primarily residential neighborhoods. Neighborhoods are not great places for drive-thru, fast food, regional-serving restaurants, but they are great for elementary schools, dog parks, and corner stores that people drive, bike, walk and take the bus to. Because these are different places (Freeway corridor versus Neighborhood Center) a one-size-fits-all regulatory approach to all confuses freedom of choice with freedom from choice (yes, I quoted Devo).

Derek Hofmann
Derek Hofmann subscribermember

"everyone gets the same benefit from a restaurant, although the quantity purchased against the need may vary."

So in other words, the list of benefits are the same for everyone, but the magnitude of each benefit varies.

"no one forces you to live in any particular spot"

If someone builds a drive-through after you've moved in, then they've wronged you, even if your city allows it.

Eric Spoerner
Eric Spoerner subscriber

I think part of the point here is that the residents themselves don't have to use the drive-thru for it to be successful. It's a business that can accomodate people that are just, you know, "driving through".

Jim Jones
Jim Jones

Grantville isn't hurting by being car centric, it's never been North Park, and that has nothing to do with anything discussed here. Not sure what the blog about redevelopment abuse targeting there has to do with cars.

David Crossley
David Crossley

North Park has a number of bus routes, don't they? Grantville will soon have only one, after MTS drops the route that goes through Allied Gardens. Increase the frequency of bus trips though the area, and it might be a bit more convenient for residents of Allied Gardens to get to the trolley stop in Grantville, or go anywhere else using public transportation. I would much rather continue living in the AG/Grantville community than being anywhere near North Park. Well, except maybe I could go bar-hopping in North Park--keep opening up those bars, and eventually your community might just catch OB.

Jim Jones
Jim Jones subscriber

Grantville isn't hurting by being car centric, it's never been North Park, and that has nothing to do with anything discussed here. Not sure what the blog about redevelopment abuse targeting there has to do with cars.

David Crossley
David Crossley subscriber

North Park has a number of bus routes, don't they? Grantville will soon have only one, after MTS drops the route that goes through Allied Gardens. Increase the frequency of bus trips though the area, and it might be a bit more convenient for residents of Allied Gardens to get to the trolley stop in Grantville, or go anywhere else using public transportation. I would much rather continue living in the AG/Grantville community than being anywhere near North Park. Well, except maybe I could go bar-hopping in North Park--keep opening up those bars, and eventually your community might just catch OB.

Derek Hofmann
Derek Hofmann

Jim, the only way to anticipate that a drive-through has a possibility of being built on the property next to yours is if the property is zoned commercial. This means you support zoning laws and therefore are in favor of Big Government.

That's strange, because you otherwise seem to be a Libertarian. I guess this proves that we're all socialists whenever it benefits us.

Jim Jones
Jim Jones

Derek, when you choose a house you have a responsibility to yourself to choose one that you want to live in. If it is likely, or even possible that commercial development may occur adjacent to the property it is your responsibility to decide if that suits you or not.

You don't need permission from the neighbors to use your property in a lawful manner. There are nuisance laws if someone feels their neighbor has gone over a line. If they haven't crossed a line then you are owed nothing, certainly no compensation.

Derek Hofmann
Derek Hofmann

Jim, moving into a house next to a likely commercial development isn't the same as moving into a house next to a commercial development. Nor does it relieve the owner of from any obligation to seek permission from the neighbors, to mitigate any harmful impacts on the neighbors, or to compensate them for any harmful impacts.

Jim Jones
Jim Jones

Derek, if someone builds a drive thru after you move in, how did that happen? Oh right, you moved into a house next to a likely commercial development. Still your choice to do so.
Nor have they "wronged you". It isn't your property, it's theirs.

Derek Hofmann
Derek Hofmann

"everyone gets the same benefit from a restaurant, although the quantity purchased against the need may vary."

So in other words, the list of benefits are the same for everyone, but the magnitude of each benefit varies.

"no one forces you to live in any particular spot"

If someone builds a drive-through after you've moved in, then they've wronged you, even if your city allows it.

Jim Jones
Jim Jones

Derek, a benefit is simply something useful, as MW says "Useful Aid", and food is a useful aid, everyone gets the same benefit from a restaurant, although the quantity purchased against the need may vary.

Your attempt to somehow derail the point by observing that someone who buys more food gets more benefit is not contradictory to the benefit of a restaurant that sells food being the same across the board, you are simply defining the term more tightly than my use of it, but my use was correct and accurate.

There are worse things to live next to than a restaurant, but again your point is inane, no one forces you to live in any particular spot, aside from prison or military or such (added to prevent your next post being "What if you are put in prison and a drive thru is put in next to your cell" sort of silliness like your "change your definition of benefit" silliness).

If you are concerned with living next to a drive-thru, then don't. Simple, right? If you don't like drive thrus, don't use them. If you hate cars, don't drive.

It's all so simple, don't be the westboro baptist church of car haters, OK?

Derek Hofmann
Derek Hofmann

Jim, a cost is something you pay, and a benefit is something you receive. If you buy two hamburgers from Jack-in-the-Box, then you benefit twice as much as someone who buys only one hamburger, but it also costs you twice as much. Therefore, the only way everyone can benefit equally is if everyone buys the same thing.

Meanwhile, if you have to travel further to get to the restaurant, then your cost goes up for the same benefit.

Or if you live right next to the restaurant, you pay a higher cost in noise, traffic, and litter than someone who lives farther from the restaurant.

So you don't have to be a car hater to not want a drive-through to open in your neighborhood.

Jim Jones
Jim Jones

Ordering the same thing has nothing to do with the benefit, which is to buy the food you want and can afford conveniently.

People like fast food joints with drive throughs, they aren't going away over a small but vocal group of car haters.

Derek Hofmann
Derek Hofmann

@Jim Jones "every single user of any particular drive through receives the same benefit per trip"

I don't think it's true that everybody orders the same thing, so I'm going to have to ask you to cite your source for that claim.

Jim Jones
Jim Jones

Derek, the wishes of any individual when it comes to collective government are irrelevant, the wishes of small groups that infest planning communities are also largely irrelevant, although the noise level is higher and some news outlets are willing to pretend these groups speak for the community at large, generally they can only achieve small, meaningless victories.

And regardless, every single user of any particular drive through receives the same benefit per trip, regardless of how close they live, and plenty of people who live in North Park visit, work and eat at other parts of the city as well. A good start in cleaning up the street might be to get rid of those buses, man they are noisy, annoying, and sometimes bring a bad element to an area.

shawn fox
shawn fox

I'm not convinced. North Park isn't exactly the kind of place that I would want to go to in order to find a jack in the box. It isn't exactly a place that people drive through to get to work unless they live or work IN the community. On the other hand, it is the kind of place that many teenagers might work out while still in high school or college. It serves the community with jobs. These drive throughs are all over the city. Typically a person will only use the one that is near their home or on the way home from work. I would argue that if residents weren't using it, then it would quickly go out of business.

Derek Hofmann
Derek Hofmann

In proportion to the benefit they receive and the cost they pay, yes. That means the wishes of someone who lives closer to another Jack-in-the-Box are irrelevant.

Jim Jones
Jim Jones

It certainly serves the person who is in that neighborhood, whether there by address or for boozing in the bars. All users of the area should have their wishes considered, correct?

Derek Hofmann
Derek Hofmann subscribermember

Jim, the only way to anticipate that a drive-through has a possibility of being built on the property next to yours is if the property is zoned commercial. This means you support zoning laws and therefore are in favor of Big Government.

That's strange, because you otherwise seem to be a Libertarian. I guess this proves that we're all socialists whenever it benefits us.

Jim Jones
Jim Jones subscriber

Derek, when you choose a house you have a responsibility to yourself to choose one that you want to live in. If it is likely, or even possible that commercial development may occur adjacent to the property it is your responsibility to decide if that suits you or not.

You don't need permission from the neighbors to use your property in a lawful manner. There are nuisance laws if someone feels their neighbor has gone over a line. If they haven't crossed a line then you are owed nothing, certainly no compensation.

Derek Hofmann
Derek Hofmann subscribermember

Jim, moving into a house next to a likely commercial development isn't the same as moving into a house next to a commercial development. Nor does it relieve the owner of from any obligation to seek permission from the neighbors, to mitigate any harmful impacts on the neighbors, or to compensate them for any harmful impacts.

Jim Jones
Jim Jones subscriber

Derek, if someone builds a drive thru after you move in, how did that happen? Oh right, you moved into a house next to a likely commercial development. Still your choice to do so.
Nor have they "wronged you". It isn't your property, it's theirs.

Derek Hofmann
Derek Hofmann subscribermember

"everyone gets the same benefit from a restaurant, although the quantity purchased against the need may vary."

So in other words, the list of benefits are the same for everyone, but the magnitude of each benefit varies.

"no one forces you to live in any particular spot"

If someone builds a drive-through after you've moved in, then they've wronged you, even if your city allows it.

Jim Jones
Jim Jones subscriber

Derek, a benefit is simply something useful, as MW says "Useful Aid", and food is a useful aid, everyone gets the same benefit from a restaurant, although the quantity purchased against the need may vary.

Your attempt to somehow derail the point by observing that someone who buys more food gets more benefit is not contradictory to the benefit of a restaurant that sells food being the same across the board, you are simply defining the term more tightly than my use of it, but my use was correct and accurate.

There are worse things to live next to than a restaurant, but again your point is inane, no one forces you to live in any particular spot, aside from prison or military or such (added to prevent your next post being "What if you are put in prison and a drive thru is put in next to your cell" sort of silliness like your "change your definition of benefit" silliness).

If you are concerned with living next to a drive-thru, then don't. Simple, right? If you don't like drive thrus, don't use them. If you hate cars, don't drive.

It's all so simple, don't be the westboro baptist church of car haters, OK?

Derek Hofmann
Derek Hofmann subscribermember

Jim, a cost is something you pay, and a benefit is something you receive. If you buy two hamburgers from Jack-in-the-Box, then you benefit twice as much as someone who buys only one hamburger, but it also costs you twice as much. Therefore, the only way everyone can benefit equally is if everyone buys the same thing.

Meanwhile, if you have to travel further to get to the restaurant, then your cost goes up for the same benefit.

Or if you live right next to the restaurant, you pay a higher cost in noise, traffic, and litter than someone who lives farther from the restaurant.

So you don't have to be a car hater to not want a drive-through to open in your neighborhood.

Jim Jones
Jim Jones subscriber

Ordering the same thing has nothing to do with the benefit, which is to buy the food you want and can afford conveniently.

People like fast food joints with drive throughs, they aren't going away over a small but vocal group of car haters.

Derek Hofmann
Derek Hofmann subscribermember

@Jim Jones "every single user of any particular drive through receives the same benefit per trip"

I don't think it's true that everybody orders the same thing, so I'm going to have to ask you to cite your source for that claim.

Jim Jones
Jim Jones subscriber

Derek, the wishes of any individual when it comes to collective government are irrelevant, the wishes of small groups that infest planning communities are also largely irrelevant, although the noise level is higher and some news outlets are willing to pretend these groups speak for the community at large, generally they can only achieve small, meaningless victories.

And regardless, every single user of any particular drive through receives the same benefit per trip, regardless of how close they live, and plenty of people who live in North Park visit, work and eat at other parts of the city as well. A good start in cleaning up the street might be to get rid of those buses, man they are noisy, annoying, and sometimes bring a bad element to an area.

shawn fox
shawn fox subscriber

I'm not convinced. North Park isn't exactly the kind of place that I would want to go to in order to find a jack in the box. It isn't exactly a place that people drive through to get to work unless they live or work IN the community. On the other hand, it is the kind of place that many teenagers might work out while still in high school or college. It serves the community with jobs. These drive throughs are all over the city. Typically a person will only use the one that is near their home or on the way home from work. I would argue that if residents weren't using it, then it would quickly go out of business.

Derek Hofmann
Derek Hofmann subscribermember

In proportion to the benefit they receive and the cost they pay, yes. That means the wishes of someone who lives closer to another Jack-in-the-Box are irrelevant.

Jim Jones
Jim Jones subscriber

It certainly serves the person who is in that neighborhood, whether there by address or for boozing in the bars. All users of the area should have their wishes considered, correct?