By Anne Holzman
Falcon Heights has denied a request from the developer of Amber Union to build a drive-through Caribou Cabin coffee shop on Larpenteur Avenue west of the apartments.
The historic building at the southwest corner of Larpenteur and Snelling avenues was previously known as the TIES office building and then renovated into apartments that opened last fall.
The developer, Buhl Investors, also owns the adjacent parcel that currently serves as overflow parking. That parcel is not covered by the Tax-Increment Financing (TIF) district that covers Amber Union, so development there could add to city revenue.
Buhl principal Peter Deanovic brought the coffee drive-through proposal to the Falcon Heights Planning Commission in March. After a public hearing at which neighbors expressed concerns about pedestrian safety, traffic and air pollution, the Planning Commission recommended denying the request.
Under Falcon Heights city code, only banks can have drive-throughs. Granting the proposal would have entailed amending the code.
The City Council considered Buhl’s request at a special meeting on May 3. Council member James Wassenberg, who had attended the Planning Commission hearing, said neighbors wanted a coffee shop without the drive-through, but that such a place might not be economically viable in that location.
Deanovic said Caribou would be investing in the space and would need to show feasibility to a lender.
Mayor Randy Gustafson, citing a similar request from Dino’s restaurant that the city denied several years ago, said the reason for the prohibition on drive-throughs is that most commercial sites in Falcon Heights border on residential lots.
“It’s very difficult to put in a drive-through that doesn’t disturb neighbors,” he said.
Wassenberg said his impression from the hearing was that neighbors felt the drive-through would be a benefit to commuters passing by on Larpenteur and Snelling avenues, but not to them.
Council members directed staff to review the findings of fact from the Planning Commission hearing and tabled the question until May 10.
Linehan presented the revised findings at the council’s regular meeting on May 10. While many adjustments were made to content, the findings still concluded that Buhl’s plan was inconsistent with the city’s Comprehensive Plan and presented pollution, pedestrian safety and other concerns. The Council then voted to reject the drive-through coffee proposal.
Anne Holzman is a Twin Cities freelance writer covering governmental news from Falcon Heights.