ELBURN – Plans for the Taco Bell in the Prairie North Commercial Center on the northeast corner of Routes 47 and 38 will now move to the Elburn Village Board for its review, but it is without a recommendation from the Elburn Planning Commission.
The March 6 meeting of the Planning Commission was the petitioner’s third time before the commission, which included a discussion of the plans, results of a traffic study and a public hearing, after which commissioners voted on the findings of fact.
The public hearing was required because of the drive-thru, considered a special use within the retail center’s B-2 commercial zoning. Of the nine fact findings, commissioners approved seven of them. One, regarding the question as to whether the special use would be a detriment based on excessive traffic, noise, smoke, fumes, glare or odors, and the other, a question regarding undue interference with traffic on surrounding streets or highways, were not approved. Votes for both findings of fact were two in favor and three against. Because they did not approve all of the findings of fact, the overall result was a “non-recommendation,” village attorney Bob Britz said. Commissioners Randy Ream and Rob Houtz were absent.
The proposed site for the Taco Bell is north of Walgreens and west of Da Capo Music Studio. Plans call for half of one of the current buildings to be removed, and the drive-thru to exit out onto Walker Drive, the entrance into a residential neighborhood to the north of the shopping center. Residents from the neighborhood and the surrounding area attended the public hearing to express their concerns about the additional traffic the restaurant would generate, as well as the potential for noise, odors and the headlights from cars exiting the drive-thru shining through the windows of their homes.
Transportation engineer Bill Grieve, whose firm Gewalt Hamilton Associates Inc. conducted the traffic study, said that about 65 percent of a Taco Bell’s business is done through its drive-thru, with 20 to 30 cars an hour during peak hours. He said peak hours were between 11 a.m. to 1:30 or 2 p.m. for lunch and between 5 and 7 p.m. for dinner.
Hours for the drive-thru are from 7 a.m. to 12:30 a.m. from Sunday through Thursday and 7 a.m. to 1:30 a.m. on Friday and Saturday, Grieve said.
The increase in traffic that the study estimated does not include the drive-thru numbers, as those cars are considered to be already on the road, Grieve said. In addition, deliveries are made in the early morning hours before the restaurant opens at 7 a.m. The 40-foot trucks make deliveries twice a week, with trash pickup taking place multiple times during the week.
A main concern for residents on and around Walker Drive is the exiting of the drive-thru traffic onto their street. Resident Julie Schmidt said that when she comes home from work around 5 p.m., there are a lot of children in the neighborhood riding their bikes.
“That’s your peak hours,” she said to the Taco Bell representatives. “It’s not going to be safe for them. If you lived in our neighborhood, would you want this across the street from you?”
Elburn resident Steve Parsons said that his primary concern was also for the children. He said when he was telling his children that he was coming to this meeting to find out more about the Taco Bell and its drive-thru, his 9-year-old said, “Does this mean that you guys aren’t going to let us go to the Walgreens anymore?”
Although the initial recommendation for the Walker Drive exit was at the commissioners’ request, several now said during the meeting they had concerns about the exit. They voted to recommend to the Village Board that if the board decided to approve the Taco Bell, they consider eliminating the Walker Drive exit.
Planning Commissioner Chris Mulvihill said that he kept thinking of the headlights from the cars exiting the drive-thru shining into the residents’ windows at night. “Nobody wants that,” he said after the meeting.
Planning Commission Chairman Jeff Metcalf said that he loves Taco Bell and he would hope the franchisee would consider another location in Elburn.
“Too much can go wrong. I have multiple concerns,” he said
Metcalf said that he was on the Village Board when the original retail center was approved. “In my view, it was never intended for such a use,” he said.