Raising Cane’s Chicken Fingers’ plans to open a new restaurant and drive-through in Boulder were shot down Thursday evening as the Boulder City Council opted not to call up the project after a decision by the city’s Planning Board to reject the popular Louisiana-born fast-food chain’s application.
Concerns from the Planning Board, which were echoed by some members of the City Council, centered around Raising Cane’s proposal to include dual drive-through lanes and hours that would see the restaurant open until 3:30 a.m. on weekends.
Raising Cane’s, known for its chicken tenders, special sauce and Texas toast, had planned to build a 3,716-square-foot restaurant at at 3033 28th St., adjacent to the popular Rayback Collective food hall and formerly home to a shuttered Taco Bell and drive-through liquor store.
In addition to the drive-throughs and the restaurant building, Raising Cane’s was proposing a roughly 600-square-foot patio for diners.
In a memo to project applicant and property owner Stephen Tebo, the Boulder Planning Board wrote that Raising Cane’s “failed to demonstrate, by a preponderance of evidence, that the redevelopment of the site would provide direct service or convenience to the surrounding neighborhood or uses or that it would reduce adverse impacts to the surrounding neighborhood or uses.”
The memo continued: “The site is located in an auto-oriented commercial area and adjacent to major vehicular thoroughfares. The drive-thru use caters to patrons driving to the site and coming from driving distances rather than the immediate residential neighborhood. In addition, rather than reducing adverse impacts to the surrounding neighborhood and uses, public testimony showed that the double drive-thru use and its operating hours would create additional pollution and noise impacts to the surrounding neighborhood and uses, in particular the residential use to the west of the site.”
The board also noted that most of the surrounding businesses, including restaurants, close around 10 p.m.
“The proposed hours for Raising Cane’s are expanded compared to those of similar uses around the area and these operating hours of the restaurant and drive-thru will add noises from traffic, idling cars, car music, car doors, and customers and employees in the middle of the night with negative impacts on the use of nearby residential properties to the west,” a Planning Board memo said.
Raising Cane’s senior property development manager LuAron Foster told the City Council that restaurant hours vary by location and are “based on customer needs,” but “we would be open to discussion” on shortening the operating hours.
Planning staff worked with Tebo for two years getting the application in order to present to elected and appointed officials, according to Councilman Bob Yates. That Planning Board members would so drastically disagree with staff’s recommendation to approve the project could be cause for concern, he said.
Councilwoman Rachel Friend agreed and said that “it’s always trouble when staff and the Planning Board are this misaligned.”
Councilwoman Nicole Speer diverged from her concerned colleagues and said she was quite comfortable with delegating a decision on the Raising Cane’s proposal to the Planning Board, which held a robust and public discussion on the matter prior to issuing its denial.
“This is a case where we can let one of our very well-functioning boards take something for us and allow us to work on other things,” she said.
Much of the criticism among residents and Planning Board members who opposed the Raising Cane’s centered around the presence of a drive-through, Yates said, but “there are three drive-throughs within a quarter-mile of this property already.”
While drive-throughs are typically discouraged in Boulder, a city that prioritizes businesses that are accessible to customers not in cars, they’re not specifically prohibited.
Drive-throughs can be permitted through the use-review process, which requires staff sign-off and often additional approvals from the Boulder Planning Board and the City Council.
If the City Council and Planning Board decide that they are no longer supporting new projects that include drive-throughs, “it would be a pretty important policy discussion for us to have out loud,” Yates said.
Raising Cane’s could opt to amend its application to the city and resubmit. The company is “exploring all options,” a Raising Cane’s spokeswoman told BizWest Friday.
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