Restaurants and coffee shops offering drive-through service are now a possibility in Birch Bay thanks to a Whatcom County Council vote on Tuesday night.
The council voted 5-2, with council members Ken Mann and Carl Weimer opposed, to allow drive-through food services in resort commercial zoned land, which includes 401 parcels on 323 acres of land in Birch Bay in addition to land in Point Roberts and Glacier. Drive-throughs will be permitted in Birch Bay except along Birch Bay Drive, where a conditional use permit will be required.
The changes to resort commercial zoning would also increase the size limit on commercial or retail space from 2,500 square feet to 5,000 square feet.
Council member Barbara Brenner had been hesitant to allow drive-throughs along Birch Bay Drive when the matter first appeared before the council planning and development committee in January, but she said requiring a conditional use permit for the community’s main drag would be acceptable. She said she was concerned about traffic problems that might arise along Birch Bay Drive were drive-throughs allowed.
The council heard comments from Birch Bay residents both for and against the zoning changes. Dymond Nicon, an architect and planner who has lived in Birch Bay for 18 years, said the addition of drive-throughs would harm the pedestrian friendly community. He maintained the separate lanes required for drive-through establishments would create an island out of the building and cause conflict between cars and people.
“Any type of island [building] would destroy the fabric of the neighborhood,” Nicon said.
Rory Hendrickson, a resident of Birch Bay since 1965, said he would welcome drive-throughs in Birch Bay because it would allow more businesses to grow. He said he plans to open a small coffee shop across the street from the Birch Bay waterslides and thinks a drive-through would be needed to make his business viable.
Brenner said she was not concerned with drive-throughs anywhere else in Birch Bay; only along Birch Bay Drive. She supported an amendment to the original proposal that would have outright banned drive-throughs along Birch Bay Drive, but that amendment failed 4-3, with Weimer and Mann also in support.
Weimer said he did not support the zoning changes because he had not heard enough input from the Birch Bay steering committee. Council president Sam Crawford tried to assure Weimer that steering committee president Kathy Berg had offered her support to the zoning changes, though Weimer was not convinced she had been speaking on behalf of the entire committee. The Birch Bay Chamber of Commerce had sent a letter to council members in support of the zoning changes.
A conditional use permit requires the landowner to submit a list of parcels and property owners within 300 feet of the property to be developed in addition to maps and geographic surveys of the property.
The conditional use permitting process represents more work than would be required without one and can cost up to a few thousand dollars.