Delaware's Planning Commission unanimously approved plans last week for a new Panera Bread location off West Central Avenue, despite concerns over traffic in the area.
The proposed restaurant, which will include a drive-through window, is planned for a 1.4-acre site at 800 W. Central Ave., just southeast of Buehler's Fresh Foods. The commission approved the preliminary and final development plans for the restaurant at its meeting Wednesday, June 4.
Delaware City Council approved a rezoning request from Buehler's last year that allowed for the development of three outlots that front Central Avenue near the grocery store. As a condition of the approval, Buehler's agreed to make infrastructure improvements at the site, including the relocation of the existing access drive onto West Central Avenue.
Before voting to approve plans for the project, commission member James Halter asked city staff if it would be possible to create a protected left turn from West Central Avenue to Buehler Drive.
"If you're coming down Central Avenue and you're turning left on Buehler Drive, you might get to turn and you might not," he said. "There's a better chance you won't get to turn."
Assistant City Engineer Jennifer Stachler said the city's administration has determined that solution would create more problems than it would solve.
"It created a queuing situation for the westbound traffic that was unacceptable, so that's why there's no protected left movement there," she said.
Stachler said any future development at the two remaining outlots will have to be preceded by further improvements near the intersection to reduce congestion. She said the city thought it was an appropriate compromise to permit the development of one lot before any road widening was completed in the area.
"We don't want to burden that Buehler Drive intersection any further than it's already burdened," she said.
Stachler said congestion generally prevents drivers from turning into Buehler's parking lot only during "peak hours" of traffic.
Halter said that did not lessen the problem, as most shoppers likely try to use the intersection during peak hours.
"The majority of people aren't shopping at 1 o'clock in the morning," he said.
Lisa Keller, commission chairwoman and Delaware City Council member, said the city is eyeing other potential fixes to traffic congestion on Central Avenue.
"We need to have more than one way to get from all of the neighborhoods west of (Buehler's) through town," she said.
Keller said she and other council members were pushing for the extension of Merrick Boulevard to create another east-west route and relieve congestion on Central Avenue. Merrick Boulevard, which sits about one mile north of Central Avenue, currently comes to a dead end west of Troy Road.
"There will be tremendous pressure taken off this section of roadway if we get another way for (area residents) to head east," she said.
The Panera plans are expected to go before council for final approval later this month. A representative of CAD Capital, the developer of the project, said construction work could get underway this summer.