Planning commission grants drive-in permit

Published on Wed, Aug 1, 2012 by Jeremy Schwartz

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The owner of the Chuck’s Drive-In building took a big step closer to opening a new restaurant after a Blaine Planning Commission vote last Thursday.

At their July 26 meeting, commissioners voted 4-0, with Richard May abstaining, to grant the building’s owner a conditional use permit (CUP), which would allow the site to be used for a restaurant. Van Tabb was absent from the meeting.

Paul Sall, the Blaine investor who bought the 2,100-square-foot building last year, wants to find tenants who will open a drive-in restaurant. The CUP was needed because restaurants are not a permitted use in the zone where it is located.

Planning commissioners had minor concerns about the permit issuance, but were supportive of a new restaurant in Blaine. Chair David Gallion said Chuck’s Drive-In had a well-established following when he moved to Blaine and had fond memories of the drive-in.

“I found it a pleasant place to go,” Gallion said. “If there’s an opportunity to bring that back, I like the idea.”

Commissioner Sue Sturgill wanted to know if issuing the CUP might make it easier for other property owners to open more restaurants in the same zone, but closer to homes. City planning staff responded that while possible, Chuck’s was the only former restaurant in that area. It’s unlikely a CUP would be issued if a homeowner wanted to convert a house into a restaurant, for example.

“Precedents always come into play, but they come into play differently in different situations,” Blaine community development director Michael Jones said.

May offered a cautionary note. With 25 years in the restaurant business, he said keeping a restaurant going in Blaine could be difficult.

“The economic situation for Blaine is not booming right now,” he said.

May also expressed concern about customers being drawn toward the outskirts of town. A bustling drive-in where Chuck’s once stood may not necessarily benefit businesses in the downtown core, he concluded.

With the CUP approved, planner Alex Wenger said a business license and building permit for major interior improvements are all that is required to open a restaurant.

A restaurant operator would also need food handling permits from the Whatcom County Health Department.