Paving paradise?

The Ashland Food Co-op's proposal to change the city's no-new-drive-thrus ordinance to free up parking strikes us — and others — as counterintuitive for a business associated with buzzwords such as "green," "sustainable" and "locavore." The city should proceed with extreme caution.

The ordinance in question dates back to 1984. It limited the total number of drive-thrus citywide to 12, and banned them from downtown entirely except for four existing drive-thrus that were grandfathered in.

City leaders expected and hoped that the downtown drive-thrus eventually would go away, never to return. That hasn't happened. All four are operated by banks — US Bank, Chase, Wells Fargo and Umpqua.

Enter the Co-op, which gets frequent complaints from customers about insufficient parking at busy times of the day. Co-op management would like to cut a deal to buy the Umpqua Bank property next door, allowing the Co-op to expand its parking.

But the drive-thru ordinance wouldn't allow Umpqua to move to another downtown location and keep its drive-thru. So the Co-op wants the city to amend the ordinance.

The proposal would allow the four grandfathered drive-thrus to relocate, as long as they were moved underground or screened from view from nearby streets. The proposal also would let the banks remodel their buildings without going through a complicated planning process

Co-op General Manager Richard Katz says that could make the buildings more attractive and historically compatible with the rest of the downtown district.

That sounds good. But if the city's intent is still to see the drive-thrus eventually disappear, easing remodeling rules and letting them relocate will only ensure they will never leave.

A bank that pays to put its drive-thru underground isn't likely to abandon it anytime soon.

The drive-thru issue aside, it is worth asking if the Co-op is adhering to its own principles in addressing the problem of an overcrowded parking lot, or if it is taking the path of least resistance rather than looking for creative solutions.

The Co-op website indicates the business has adopted an approach called The Natural Step, featuring "The Four Principles of Sustainability." The first of those is to "eliminate our contribution to the progressive buildup of substances extracted from the Earth's crust (for example, heavy metals and fossil fuels)."

If the Co-op's No. 1 sustainability goal is to reduce the use of fossil fuels, expanding the parking lot would seem to be exactly the wrong way to go about it.

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