An Ashland law that limits drive-thru windows in town has a new and unexpected opponent — the Ashland Food Co-op.

An Ashland law that limits drive-thru windows in town has a new and unexpected opponent — the Ashland Food Co-op.

Adopted in 1984 to curb vehicle pollution and auto-centric development, the law allows only 12 drive-thru windows in Ashland. Drive-thru windows were banned in Ashland's historic downtown area, except for four that already existed and were grandfathered in.

The idea was that those four drive-thru windows might someday disappear as the properties changed uses.

The co-op, which is in the historic downtown area, doesn't want a drive-thru window for itself.

But the busy grocery store — which often has a jam-packed parking lot — is interested in purchasing the property next door that houses Umpqua Bank. The co-op could then expand its parking area, according to city planning documents.

A deal between the co-op and bank is unlikely unless Umpqua can get city approval for a drive-thru window within the historic downtown area.

The co-op has proposed a change in the law to allow relocating the four grandfathered drive-thru windows in the historic downtown. To minimize visual impacts, the drive-thru facility would have to be located mainly underground or be screened from view from public streets.

Under the proposal, the four downtown sites that have drive-thru windows could also be remodeled without going through an onerous and risky planning process, as would be required now.

The other eight drive-thru windows in Ashland already can be transferred between users and locations, as long as they remain southeast of the intersection of Siskiyou Boulevard and Ashland Street, clustered mainly in the business area around Exit 14.

Co-op General Manager Richard Katz emphasized that the store has no deal in place with Umpqua Bank, but an easing of the city's restrictions on downtown drive-thru windows could open the door for productive negotiations.

The co-op moved to its current site at 237 N. First St. in 1993, before the area saw a flurry of development, Katz said.

"We felt we had found a neighborhood that would accommodate us," he said.

As time went on, the neighborhood got more crowded as businesses sprouted along nearby A Street and downtown workers in Main Street and Lithia Way businesses began using the neighborhood for parking, Katz said.

The co-op's business also boomed, to the point where it now serves more than 3,000 customers per day, he said.

"We didn't know how successful we would be. The response to our store has been fantastic," Katz said. "We probably have one of the most popular and well-used parking lots in town."

In customer surveys, parking is listed as their biggest concern, he said.

The co-op has looked at relocating or using valet or remote parking, but those ideas aren't very feasible, he said.

The co-op began discussions with Umpqua Bank six years ago, but bank officials have been concerned about losing their drive-thru window if they moved the branch to a different downtown location, Katz said.

Katz said allowing the relocation of downtown drive-thru windows and easing the remodeling process for the four bank properties with windows could ultimately improve Ashland's appearance.

U.S. Bank is an example of modern International Style and contributes to Ashland's historical heritage, but Wells Fargo, Umpqua and Chase are not historically compatible with the downtown, according to planning documents.

In fact, the historic Ashland Hotel, a grand turreted structure that dominated a full block downtown, was razed in 1961 to make way for the plain, flat-roofed Wells Fargo building, according to planning documents.

Katz said the bank buildings are prime candidates for renovations that could make them more attractive and historically compatible with the downtown area.

The proposal to loosen city rules on the downtown drive-thru windows has recently gone before the Planning Commission and Transportation Commission, and is due back before the Planning Commission this month.

Some commissioners have voiced support for elements of the proposal, such as easing the banks' ability to remodel their properties, but have raised concerns about other aspects, including the increased chance that the drive-thru windows would stay in operation indefinitely in the downtown area, rather than fading away over time.

Planning staff members have recommended rules to minimize impact. The rules would include that the facilities be located primarily underground, be accessible only from a driveway or alley and not be visible from any adjacent streets.

The Planning Commission will take up the issue again at 7 p.m. June 12 in the Ashland Civic Center Council Chambers, 1175 E. Main St. The issue could go before the Ashland City Council for a final decision in mid-July, according to city staff.

Vickie Aldous is a reporter for the Ashland Daily Tidings. Reach her at 541-479-8199 or vlaldous@yahoo.com.