MANKATO — A new downtown Dunkin’ donuts shop prompted plenty of concerns from the Mankato City Council but ultimately received approval on a 4-3 vote.
Like the Planning Commission, which also split 4-3 on the new Riverfront drive coffee/pastry/breakfast sandwich shop, the council was worried about traffic impacts. The drive-thru-only shop will be built at the intersection of Liberty Street and Riverfront Drive, directly across from the Public Safety Center and on the route most downtown office workers use to get to their jobs.
“It’s going to be used a lot,” Council member Mark Frost said. “It should be a very successful little restaurant.”
There seemed to be unanimity on that forecast, which is why three council members had visions of so many people looking for a latte and some Munchkins on weekday mornings that vehicles might stack up back onto Riverfront Drive — a thoroughfare that carries more than 16,000 vehicles a day. There were worries, too, about pedestrian safety and the potential of donut fans being tempted to drive directly down Liberty Street across the four lanes of Riverfront to reach Dunkin’, an intersection that doesn’t have a traffic signal.
“This is just a train wreck waiting to happen trying to go across there,” Council member Jessica Hatanpa said.
Those issues, along with questions about whether traffic to the Dunkin’ might slow emergency vehicles leaving the combined police/fire station across the street, prompted months of discussion between developer WEB Construction and city staff. Numerous conditions placed on the conditional use permit for the new business eventually prompted staff to recommend approval and garnered a bare majority of the council.
With the final plans, there’s room for 18-21 vehicles to be in line at the drive-thru without reaching Riverfront Drive. And the Dunkin’ owners agreed to accept losing their new Riverfront Drive access point — forcing traffic to arrive via Poplar Street — if traffic problems arise in the future.
In one of the latest changes, the entrance/exit on Riverfront will be designed so that traffic leaving the shop won’t be able to turn left. Instead, drivers looking to go north on Riverfront will have to take Poplar to Warren Street, where there’s a signalized intersection.
Hatanpa was reassured by a traffic engineer who said signs and lane markings could make it clear that drivers shouldn’t make the direct dash across the unsignalized Liberty Street intersection, instead choosing to take the less-daunting but slightly longer trip via Warren Street.
She, Frost, Council member Dennis Dieken and Mayor Najwa Massad voted in favor.
Council member Karen Foreman joined Council President Laven and Council member Jenn Melby-Kelley in opposition. Laven said creating a new access point directly off of Riverfront Drive undermines efforts to make a safer, better-flowing downtown thoroughfare. And Foreman was skeptical about the provision in the permit allowing the Riverfront access point to be revoked if it proves problematic, doubting that a future council would take that step after a major private investment was made.
“I don’t see that as a very useful condition,” Foreman said.
Josh Williams of WEB Construction said the Dunkin’ management is dedicated to ensuring that such a revocation is never needed, committing to send employees out to direct traffic at particularly busy times such as National Donut Day.
“They’re really adamant to try to make this intersection work,” Williams said.