The planning board gathered to again determine the direction it should take in reworking the "fast food" ordinance, developed over 30 years ago with the aim to prohibit garish, styrofoam-laden burger joints from operating in the historic business district.
While it's been largely successful at doing that, it's something of a double-edged sword and the prospective plan is not without challenges, according to Village Planner Blais Brancheau.
"The current definition and current regulations are having the effects beyond what was originally intended in that they are discouraging other businesses that are similar to fast food restaurants," Brancheau said, noting several existing businesses that could fall under the fast food umbrella already operate in the village as well, creating impropriety issues.
"The intent in what I put before the board is not to discourage those businesses but to allow them to occur," subject to regulations, he said.
At least seven businesses have recently been turned away under the fast ordinance requirements, many of which were yogurt shops. None have been traditional fast food burger operations and Brancheau has said he doesn't believe they'd try to get into the CBD anyway given a lack of parking, no drive-thru allowance and regulated architecture.
New plan of attack?
Given the input of the board on Tuesday night, Brancheau said it appeared to be favoring a "performance-based zoning" undertaking in potentially revising the ordinance. This effectively means instead of creating ordinances to restrict business types in zones, the code would regulate impacts of the establishments, such as noise, odors, signage – the major concerns members have with allowing "fast food" in the CBD.
To date, the only concrete changes to revising the ordinance are to prohibit a drive-thru window at establishments.
Brancheau on Tuesday presented the planning board a series of documents for its consideration – a definition of what fast food is; an analysis of other municipalities' related ordinances; and a final document exploring which zones are appropriate for "fast food."
In his analysis of how other municipalities handle fast food regulations, Brancheau said the most restrictive regulations apply to drive-thru restaurants, the least restrictive to restaurants, and fast food lies somewhere in the middle.
"It's not about Wendy's," Mayor Keith Killion said in his assessment of the problem at hand.
The mayor noted that people get "too hung up" on the term "fast food," remarking that the issue applies to a much greater scope of planning and zoning. Pizza places, ice cream shops, bagel stores and others are all enveloped in the discussion, he said.
The issue, in general, is in maintaining the integrity of the downtown's street scape while not prohibiting businesses that are desirable, he said.
Member Kevin Reilly echoed some of those ideas, remarking that standardized architecture, logos, colors are designed particularly to catch the eye, not blend in.
"We have a traditional downtown, and personally, I prefer to keep the look," he said. Reilly advocated for keeping some controls in place to mitigate impacts.
"We need to find a balance," Killion exclaimed. "I don't know where that balance is."
If it ain't broke, don't fix it?
Yet others didn't appear in favor of balance at all Tuesday night.
"In thinking about this serious question of what to do with our village in terms of changing ordinances and rules that by-and-large have worked," said member Constantino Suriano, "What I don't get is why we have to change things just for the sake of change."
"I realize that real estate interests would like to fill some stores, which is all well and good," he said, "but this is not a city, this is not a mall."
Suriano again echoed that he had concerns with odors, loitering, lighting, traffic and garbage. He sought greater examination as to the impetus for change.
Difficulties with new zoning direction
Although the board appears to be moving forward in "performance-based zoning," it's not without its quandaries.
Administering and enforcing "impacts" like odors, lighting and others, Brancheau said, is "very hard to do."
The planner told the board that "slow food" has many of those same impacts, creating just as much complexity in drafting an ordinance that stands the legal test, brings "desired" businesses back into the fold, and still maintaining controls to regulate smells, lights, signs and traffic.
"This is a tough issue," he said. Replied Mayor Killion, "I have faith in you, Blais."
The board will discuss more of Brancheau's potential revisions in future meetings.