A Starbucks drive-thru planned for Trowbridge Road is drawing concerns from some nearby residents and will soon be discussed – and likely voted on – by City Council.
The drive-thru in question was approved by an earlier Council in 2017 and the space is expected to be occupied by Starbucks according to the developers. Council members won’t be deciding whether or not to allow the drive-thru to exist. That approval is already set from the 2017 decision. Rather, they will decide whether or not to grant a Special Use Permit (SUP) that will allow the drive-thru to open at 5:30 a.m. instead of 6 a.m., as the approval stated in 2017.
Still, during two Planning Commission meetings where theSUP was discussed, some residents have raised concerns about potential traffic issues the drive-thru could cause throughout the day.
“It is a Starbucks drive-thru next to a very busy college campus,” said Sabrina Curley at the April 12 Planning Commission meeting. Curley is a resident of the Arbor Forest apartment complex adjacent to the drive-thru.
Curley said she isn’t concerned about the fact a drive-thru is being added. But she is concerned it will likely be operated by the popular coffee chain and will draw plenty of business. This could result in spillover traffic that blocks drivers from entering her apartment complex.
Planning Commissioner Ed Wagner shared Curley’s concerns. At the April 12 meeting, he said the nearby highway on-ramp can already be difficult to navigate and he’s had trouble when visiting Woody’s Oasis, which is nearby.
The nearby stretch of Trowbridge Road has a median and can be challenging for drivers who want to turn left out of or into businesses or make a u-turn. The u-turn spaces are narrow and short, causing issues for trucks, especially.
Concerns over traffic congestion caused by a Starbucks drive-thru are not new, and this came up at Planning Commission. The Starbucks location on Stoddard Road regularly causes traffic to back up all the way to Grand River Avenue and was a topic of dedicated discussion at the Jan. 17, 2023, City Council meeting.
“I live very close to this Starbucks and there are periods of time where cars that are leaving the neighborhood can’t get on to Grand River or can’t turn off of Grand River because of the Starbucks drive-thru,” Councilmember Dana Watson said at that meeting.
But not all feedback about the Trowbridge Road location at Planning Commission meetings was negative, as one meeting attendee spoke in favor on behalf of nearby businesses on April 12.
“I’m all for supporting the business over there as it is an important gateway to East Lansing and MSU,” said Susan Chalgain, who serves as president of the Trowbridge Business Association. “I would encourage more attention in that area.”
Planning Commission Chair Joseph Sullivan wondered aloud if there is the possibility that adding a Starbucks will take some traffic away from the Stoddard location and help to alleviate the congestion near that shop.
Jordan Samp is the director of real estate for the Boji group and answered questions on behalf of Starbucks at the April 12 and 26 meetings. Samp said Starbucks has not yet signed the lease for the space but has indicated that they would like to. She estimated it would take about six months to get the space in operating condition.
One common concern residents had in 2017, when the space was initially approved to be a drive-thru, was early morning noise.
Samp told the Planning Commission in recent meetings the nearest residents live about 140-feet away and noise from the drive-thru speaker should not be a problem. This is because the speaker is programmed to adjust to background noise and will be very quiet in the early hours when there is not much traffic noise.
“This won’t be a squawking speaker,” Samp said at the April 26 meeting. She noted there’s also a wall between the commercial space and the apartments.
Samp clarified at the April 26 meeting that the inside of the store will operate under the same hours as the drive-thru. Answering questions from the commission, she said the Grand River/Stoddard Starbucks opening hours fluctuate between 5:30 a.m. and 6 a.m., depending on the day, and it is possible, though not definite, the new location will use the same approach.
Ultimately, the Planning Commission voted 6-1 in favor of recommending to City Council the drive-thru be allowed to open at 5:30 a.m.
The lone vote against came from Planning Commission Vice Chair Daniel Bollman, who said he has concerns about adding another Starbucks to a residential area and he doesn’t believe loosening regulations helps to address those concerns.
Bollman said it seemed like, in 2017, there were many members of the public that voiced concerns about the drive-thru and the topic has not received as much attention this time around. He noted Curley’s point at the April 26 meeting that the 6 a.m. start time set in 2017 represented a compromise in response to neighborhood objections.
“In a residential location,” he said. “I’d like to see it kept at its 6 o’clock [opening] time.”
Commissioner Cynthia Williams said she understands the concerns, but believes the decision should be moved to Council. She said Council is the appropriate setting for compromises to be made.
The next City Council meeting is scheduled for Tuesday, May 9, and this topic is expected to be on the agenda., Members of the public wishing to weigh in are encouraged to voice their opinions on the matter before Council decides whether or not to allow the Starbucks to open at 5:30 a.m.