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11/4/2021 4:02:00 PM
Oak Ridge council eyes reducing drive-through congestion

OAK RIDGE - Oak Ridge Town Council is seeking ideas to lessen the congestion of drive-throughs as it plots future commercial development in the town core.

"I don't think we should ban drive-throughs," Mayor Pro Tem Jim Kinneman said during an Oct. 13 special called meeting of the council. "We need to come up with a creative way to deal with the stacking problem."

The council met with representatives of Hill Studio, a Roanoke, Virginia-based community planning and design firm hired by Oak Ridge to create an illustrated design guidebook for developers. The firm shared suggestions by Oak Ridge residents and business owners who recommended preserving the town's history and open spaces while designing buildings, shopping areas and streets with pedestrian access and safety at the forefront of planning.

Hill Studio is incorporating suggestions by council members in revisions of the guidebook, part of the town's efforts to improve the "village feel" of the N.C. 68 commercial business corridor. The council plans to schedule another special called meeting in the next few weeks to continue refining the draft before it goes to the town's Planning and Zoning Board, the Historic Preservation Commission and the public for comments.

Adoption of the guidebook by the council is possible early next year, according to Mayor Ann Schneider.

She and other council members discussed drive-throughs as an example of modern design that favors vehicles over pedestrians. With the design guidebook, Oak Ridge plans to recommend ways for developers of future projects to avoid congestion, such as the backup of cars at drive-through windows.

"If what (developers are) proposing to do with their business and drive-through window impedes pedestrian access and sort of takes over the site, then it's a problem," Schneider said. "Once you have drive-throughs, you are defeating what we are trying to do in terms of pedestrian access."

Banning drive-throughs in future development would ignore that the convenience is critical to families, according to Kinneman. Parents with young children in their cars can't easily park to go inside of restaurants, he said.

The drive-through "is going to be there whether you actually like that concept or not," said Councilman George McClellan, explaining they're important to restaurants and other businesses that rely on a high volume of sales.

"At the risk of trivializing, you've got to be able to herd them in and head them out," he said.

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