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Encinitas council rejects proposal for Starbucks in Cardiff

A rendering of the potential Starbucks.
(Karen Billing)

City Council denies property owner’s appeal to replace Jack-In-The-Box with drive-thru

Allowing a rather quiet Jack-In-The-Box location in downtown Cardiff to transform into a Starbucks drive-thru coffee place would greatly intensify the use of the site, the City Council decided Wednesday, Feb. 9.

In its unanimous vote, the council upheld a city Planning Commission decision and denied an appeal filed by the property’s owners, who had argued that the conversion from a fast food operation to a coffee sales spot wasn’t a significant change.

Jack in the Box has occupied its corner lot at the intersection of San Elijo Avenue and Birmingham Drive for a half-century — far longer than Encinitas has been an incorporated city. The fast food restaurant is in an area where drive-thru businesses aren’t now allowed under city regulations, but its drive-thru lane is considered a “legal, non-conforming use” because it pre-dates the city regulations. The question before the council Wednesday, Feb. 9, was how much change is allowable at such a property before it loses its legal, non-conforming status.

Jennifer Chavez, an attorney representing the property’s owners, told the council Wednesday, Feb. 9, that she interprets the city’s codes to mean that her clients can’t make significant structural changes to the building, but she argued that’s not what they’re proposing with their plans to sell the site to CalBay Investments. And, she said, the city also can’t reject CalBay’s coffee shop proposal for the site by saying that a drive-thru coffee place is different than a drive-thru fast food place and would generate more traffic.

“A drive-thru use is a drive-thru use,” she said, adding, “There’s nothing in your code that says a fast food use is different (than Starbucks).”

She compared their coffee shop proposal to a traditional grocery store becoming an organic foods market or a discount grocery, and said the city couldn’t say no to that.

City planning department employees have said that the proposed changes that would accommodate the coffee shop operation are significant and do intensify the use of the site.

“The proposed changes that CalBay proposes: the relocation and striping of the parking lot, the closing off Birmingham Drive, and the signage directing cars to the walk-up window if the queuing of cars becomes too large, all point to the fact that a Starbucks at this location will not only increase the intensity of use, but it will also expand the inconsistencies with current zoning ordinances,” a city staff report notes.

Council members said they agreed with the planning department staff. Councilmember Tony Kranz called the staff report “quite compelling,” while Councilmember Joy Lyndes said she saw the two as fundamentally different businesses.

“It seems quite clear to me,” she said.

Before their vote, council members heard from five public speakers; four of them lived in the Cardiff area or had businesses there and they all urged the council to support the Planning Commission’s November decision and deny the applicant’s appeal. The fifth was a representative for the CalBay Investments company.


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