The Seattle-based company's green-trimmed stores are found in every corner of Los Angeles. But in the last six months, Starbucks has rolled out plans for a half-dozen new stores that are car-centric and devoid of the leather chairs, wood paneling and hipster music so common in its traditional shops.
Drive-through restaurants are more complicated projects in the city than a traditional walk-in coffee store since they require discretionary Conditional Use Permits and may have additional requirements such as Site Plan Reviews, Specific Plan compliance requirements and/or deviations from the Zoning Code. And of course, that assumes that an applicant can find a suitable location for a drive-through restaurant. There aren't a lot of failing drive-through restaurants in Los Angeles to be taken over or vacant commercial land.
Probably the most interesting of Starbucks' current projects is a proposal to convert the Gilmore Gasoline Service Station at the southwest corner of Highland and Willoughby avenues. The Greater Wilshire Neighborhood Council's Land Use Committee last week heard the proposal, which is still in draft form and has yet to be formally submitted to the city.
The gas station was designated a Historic-Cultural Monument in 1992 by the city but has sat vacant for more than 20 years. Starbucks' current plan is to retain most of the building's unique architecture while also providing drive-through and walk-up service (draft elevation provided by GWNC LUC).
Greg Wittmann, secretary of the GWNC LUC, told LandUseLA.com that his committee "was receptive to the idea of a drive-through Starbucks because the Gilmore Gas Station is a designated historic structure in serious disrepair which has sat vacant for 25 years."
The committee did have two areas of concern, asking Starbucks' architect to consider using the alley behind the parcel for automobile access instead of Willoughby and to improve the visibility of pedestrian access from Highland. Architect Elizabeth Valerio told the committee that her firm still needs to meet with city officials, including the Planning Department's Office of Historic Resources.
Starbucks submitted applications in the last several months with the Planning Department for drive-through outlets in San Pedro, Northeast Los Angeles, Granada Hills and Valley Village. The San Pedro location was approved in September and the Northeast LA location was OK'd in August. The Granada Hills application has a public hearing set for next Tuesday (Nov. 5).
A case was filed in August for a drive-through restaurant in Valley Village* at the southwest corner of Burbank and Laurel Canyon boulevards. The original application requested an exception from the Valley Village Specific Plan to allow a drive-through restaurant. But the case was terminated earlier this month because Starbucks would need to amend the specific plan to allow for drive-through restaurants, according to the Planning Department. An amendment is a much more expensive and time-consuming application than the exception and much less frequently approved.
The termination of the Valley Village project speaks to the difficulties a company like Starbucks faces as it tries to expand its drive-through operations in more neighborhoods throughout the city. Large portions of south Los Angeles are under an Interim Control Ordinance that prohibits new fast-food restaurants to be permitted, and other specific plans in Los Angeles also prevent or severely limit fast-food and/or drive-through restaurants.
Starbucks has nine drive-through outlets in the Valley already, plus single outlets in Venice, Arlington Heights and South Los Angeles. If the Gilmore gas station site is approved, it'll be the first Starbucks drive-through between the 405 and downtown Los Angeles that is north of Washington.
Greater Wilshire Neighborhood Council Land Use Committee Agenda
Gilmore Gasoline Service Station Historic-Cultural Designation (#508)
Approval Letter for Proposed San Pedro Drive-Through Starbucks (1690 W. Lomita Blvd.)
Approval Letter for Proposed Northeast LA Drive-Through Starbucks (6240 E. York Blvd.)
CUP for Proposed Granada Hills Drive-Through Starbucks (17901 Chatsworth Blvd.)
Terminated Valley Village Drive-Through Starbucks (12106 Burbank Blvd.)
* DISCLOSURE: My firm, Pacific Crest Consultants, was one of several firms asked to provide a contract proposal to provide entitlement services for the Valley Village project prior to the case submittal. We were not selected.