ST. JOSEPH -- A proposal for a drive-thru Caribou Coffee shop in St. Joseph is a small step closer to reality—but the city wants to study the topic more before granting full approval.

Following a public hearing, the St. Joseph City Council at their Monday night meeting voted to approve a variance request and table discussion on a conditional use permit pending investigation into the impact of the drive-thru business at the corner of 12th Ave. SE and County Rd. 75.

The topic has appeared on the council's agenda before. In August, the city denied both requests from developers John Fahning and Tom Opatz, citing a lack of information on traffic and safety-related concerns. Prior to that, the St. Joseph Planning Commission approved a 9 ft. variance request but denied a conditional use permit, required for a drive-thru.

During the public hearing, residents near the proposed site expressed concerns that the drive-thru would complicate an already busy intersection.

St. Joseph resident Janice Mensinger spoke during the hearing. She says she counted roughly 1,200 cars moving through the intersection between 5-9 a.m. on Monday morning. She says, she and her neighbors aren't opposed to Caribou as a business —only the increase in traffic it could bring.

They said, "It's because the neighbors don't want the Caribou Coffee in their backyard. That isn't so much it. It's the safety.

Fahning and Opatz maintain a purchase agreement with the city and can execute it any time until May, 2020. Opatz says, they plan to wait for the city to examine and issue the conditional use permit before they make a final decision on how to develop on the property. He says, they're open to alternatives — but a Caribou Coffee is their first choice.

The intent of signing the purchase agreement was to build the Caribou, so we're still hopeful that the Caribou will be approved.


City administrator Kris Ambuehl says much of the evidence for and against the coffee shop has been anecdotal. He believes the city made the right decision to table the topic until a more evidence-based study of the intersection can be done.

It was a slippery slope, and (the council) did the right thing. We can't make a decision based on assumptions.

If built, the shop would be the second Caribou Coffee shop in St. Joseph. Coborn's - St. Joseph already includes the franchise, open seven days a week.

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