The Canal Winchester Times

Panera gets council OK for drive-through window

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Canal Winchester City Council agreed last month to allow a Panera Bread Bakery & Cafe to be built with a drive-through window, clearing the way for construction to start on the project -- possibly as soon as this summer.

The new restaurant is planned for the Waterloo Crossing shopping center, on the lot next door to Chipotle.

Covelli Enterprises, Panera's largest franchisee, sought a conditional use application for the drive-through from the Canal Winchester Planning and Zoning Commission in April but the request was denied in a 4-2 vote. Safety concerns were raised about vehicles stacking up in the drive-through lane, and then rushing to exit where a pedestrian crosswalk bisects that traffic.

"Planning and zoning was not convinced that there weren't operational issues that would cause problems with access across that drive-through area," Law Director Gene Hollins told council during a May 19 public hearing.

Attorney Joseph R. Miller, representing Panera and the franchisee, said he believed the confusion was related to the distinct difference in traffic volume through a Panera drive-through as opposed to a more high-volume restaurant such as McDonald's.

"We believe there was some confusion at the planning and zoning meeting and that's why we're here to hopefully clear that up. Drive-through times and the number of cars are much lower," he said. "This is not McDonald's ... we're on the order of 50 percent less than a McDonald's."

Covelli Director of Corporate Affairs Allen Ryan said the drive-through is important to the restaurant because it represents about a 16-percent increase in sales, or about $12,000 a week. However, Ryan said, during peak traffic times between 11 a.m. and 2 p.m., this only represents about 27 cars an hour.

Following an executive session, city council members unanimously approved the drive-through.

With the design of the restaurant dependent on whether the drive-through could be incorporated into the site, the developers had asked for final site plans to be held by the planning and zoning commission until this decision was made.

The next step prior to starting construction will be one more planning and zoning meeting, currently scheduled for 7 p.m., Monday, June 9, to ask for final plan approval.

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