Get your five bucks ready. The Riverside Zoning Board of Appeals cleared a number of obstacles last week to pave the way for a Starbucks on Harlem Avenue.
Meeting July 25, the zoning board granted four building variances requested by the company for its planned construction project. The café would be located at 2704 Harlem Ave., replacing the current Sara Lee Bakery on that lot. Starbucks’ architect for the project, Melanie Soos, said the company plans on replacing the current building with a 2,350-square-foot café in the southern half of the lot, bordered by a wrap-around drive-thru lane and parking lot.
Starbucks, represented by Michael Achim at the meeting, requested four variances for the project, involving the number of parking spaces in the lot, the location of their refuse containers, the building set-back from the rear of the property and the height of a back fence.
Village code requires refuse containers to be located directly behind or to the side of commercial buildings. The variance Starbucks is seeking would allow them to locate those containers in the northwest corner of the lot, shielded by masonry walls designed to match the café. Achim said this placement allowed for easier garbage pick-up, and was similar to where Sara Lee’s garbage containers are currently located.
Both the parking and rear setback variances were related to the inclusion of the drive-thru lane around the café. Riverside’s code would normally require Starbucks to plan for 19 spaces; the variance they are seeking would allow for 17. The code also calls for a 10-foot setback from the rear of the property; Starbucks’ current plans only give a 5-foot rear setback. Soos said the drive-thru limited the space available for parking, but also decreased the need for it. She also argued the shorter setback was necessary to allow cars the space to turn around the rear of the building.
“We just don’t have the luxury of providing 10 feet on the back side,” she said.
The final variance would allow an 8-foot rear fence on the property, higher than the maximum of six feet usually allowed by village code. Soos said the extra height would shield neighboring properties from the glare of car headlights in the drive-thru lane.
The variance for refuse containers passed unanimously, while the variances for both the parking and rear setback passed by a vote of 6-1. Terrance Jordan, the dissenting vote for both variances, said he thought the hardships Starbucks was seeking to alleviate through the variances were caused by the company’s own plans rather than the property itself.
“The need for a variance is determined by unique circumstances of a property,” he said. “Other than the fact that it might not be suitable for a Starbucks, it’s hard to see unique circumstances here.”
Starbucks representatives have previously argued that the drive-thru would be necessary to make the new café financially feasible. They estimate 60 percent of the café’s business will come through the drive-thru. Achim and Soos also argued at the meeting that the lot’s location on the corner of Harlem Avenue and Berkeley Road significantly limited their options as to how they could use the space, thereby providing unique circumstances and meeting the requirements for a variance.
The fence variance was the most contentious vote, with a final tally of 4-3. Those members voting against it said that while they appreciated Starbucks’ concern for surrounding residents, there was no real hardship requiring the use of an 8-foot fence on the property. Board member Ray Rezner said he would have liked to hear more from neighboring residents before voting on the request.
Board Chairman Dennis Sadilek said 43 letters were sent to nearby residents about the requested variances, but only one resident, Chester Stock, attended the meeting. Stock protested some of the variances, saying a higher fence would tarnish the aesthetics of the neighborhood and reducing parking would encourage customers to park in nearby residential areas.
“If it’s anywhere as busy a place as on 1st Avenue and Ogden,” he said, referencing another Starbucks café, “there’s no way they can make it work. If they’re short on parking, people are going to park on the street, and there’s already really no place to park.”
There is a possibility Starbucks will return to the ZBA to further reduce parking in its lot. At the meeting, Achim and Soos presented the most current version of their café design, which takes into account suggestions from the Riverside Landscape Advisory Commission to add landscaped inlets in its parking area. This would reduce the number of parking spaces to 16. The board voted for 17 spaces, however, because that was the number requested on Starbucks’ original variance application. It was unclear if Starbucks would submit another variance request.
If not, Chief Building Inspector Bob Caraher estimated the village’s commissions should be done reviewing Starbucks’ proposed design, and the project should be up for a final vote from the village board in late August or early September.