Saying that it was the right project in the wrong place, Walnut Creek City Council members in the wee hours of Wednesday rejected plans for an Amy's Drive-Thru vegetarian restaurant, more than two years after it was first proposed.
At issue specifically was the restaurant's drive-up window, and the traffic some believe it would create near the intersection of North Main Street and Second Avenue, on the city's north end. It's an area many residents say is already a traffic problem, thanks in part to another restaurant drive-through window.
"I just think the specific location needs to be different," said Councilman Kevin Wilk at about 1:15 a.m. Wednesday. Though the council vote was 5-0 against the restaurant -- specifically the drive-through element -- he and other council members said they want Amy's Drive-Thru in their city.
But not there.
The city's Planning Commission on Jan. 23 voted 4-3 to deny Amy's application for a conditional use permit for drive-up service at the planned 3,773-square-foot restaurant. Tuesday night's City Council hearing was to hear an appeal of that denial.
Dozens of residents from the neighborhood near North Main and Second told the council Tuesday night that not only would cars lining up for the drive-through further clog North Main, but that the stream of cars emptying out onto Second Street would also present a safety hazard.
Robert Service, of Central Automotive Service Center on nearby Auto Center Drive, said previous projects weren't properly planned for, and that Amy's would only make a bad situation worse.
"We've got some serious traffic problems in that neighborhood (already), and they're not being addressed," he said.
A handful of people came out in support of the restaurant, most of them looking forward to Amy's food. But Jay Hoyer, president of the Walnut Creek Chamber of Commerce and Visitors Bureau, urged critics to trust city staff on what he said is a good project.
"There are other businesses clamoring to get on this site," Hoyer said. "Be careful about what you ask for."
Amy's is the second drive-through restaurant proposed at that corner in recent years. In-N-Out Burger had wanted to build there, but that proposal was pulled in April 2017. In a statement at that time, developer Mark Hall of Hall Equities Group said it wasn't in his company's best interest to pursue such a "divisive" use.
Amy's Drive-Thru is associated with Petaluma-based Amy's Kitchen, which produces a popular line of frozen vegetarian dinners available in grocery stores. The restaurant menu includes veggie burgers, shakes, French fries, pizzas, macaroni and cheese, and salads. The company's websites lists existing locations in Rohnert Park and at the San Francisco International Airport.
Several council members and other commenters asked if Amy's would be interested in building a restaurant there without a drive-through window.
Paul Schiefer, Amy's senior director of sustainability, said that's a non-starter. It's a matter of co-opting a format -- fast food drive-through -- and making it healthier.
"For us, it's deeply part of our purpose," Schiefer said.