Sept. 23--Cowiche Canyon Kitchen took fewer than four months to go from concept to shovel-ready.
In May, restaurateur Graham Snyder purchased what was a privately owned park at 202 E. Yakima Ave. for $385,000.
On Sept. 13, the city of Yakima issued a building permit for the 6,200-square-foot restaurant.
The relatively quick approval of the project is noteworthy considering recent challenges faced by other developers looking to build in downtown Yakima.
A year ago, the property was slated to be a retail development that reportedly was to include a Starbucks.
But developer Hogback LLC halted plans after city planning officials rejected a land use application for the development, citing safety concerns for a driveway that was to serve as an exit for a planned drive-thru.
Cowiche Canyon Kitchen also secured approval in a fraction of the time for a McDonald's now under construction one block away.
Earlier this month, I wrote about how the lengthy land use process for McDonald's was an indication of more strict development standards to come.
So it's worth looking at why Cowiche Canyon Kitchen had a much more streamlined planning process.
Although current standards allow for drive-thrus, the lack of one was a plus for the project.
The drive-thru for the proposed Starbucks development was a concern for neighboring business owners and residents who felt it would create traffic and safety issues on Second Street and Yakima Avenue.
The project also had its supporters -- namely other downtown property owners -- but city officials sided with that opposition when they ultimately rejected the project.
In the case of McDonald's, there were also safety and traffic concerns, but through the long negotiation process, McDonald's was able to mitigate those issues, either through revisions in the site plan or by agreeing to other conditions.
But city officials, including Economic Development Director Sean Hawkins, made it clear that drive-thrus aren't an ideal use for downtown property, so I wouldn't be surprised if there was a provision in new development standards, which is a work in progress, that limits or even prohibits the construction of new drive-thrus in downtown Yakima.
City officials have stated that they don't want downtown to look suburban and want to avoid anything that would promote that feel.
That led to McDonald's spending several months to get an all-brick building design that had a more urban feel, which was an improvement from the "suburban-looking" design it originally submitted.
McDonald's officials said they were willing to make the changes because they didn't want to give up on the site. Making those changes also meant spending $80,000 extra on redesigning site plans and building renderings and an extra $200,000 to $300,000 more on the all-brick design.
In contrast, it looks like Snyder did not have to go through such a process to get his restaurant approved. In fact, there wasn't a lot of information about the concept or the design.
But I was surprised to learn that the building design wasn't even a factor in the decision making process.
Steve Osguthorpe, the city's community development director, explained that since the McDonald's project asked for a number of adjustments to its planning code, the city was able to leverage those requests to get a better building design.
But Cowiche Canyon Kitchen did not ask the city to make such adjustments, so the project was approved easily as it met existing standards.
That said, Snyder and his team did show computer renderings and Osguthorpe liked what he saw.
"It's a very sleek, contemporary design," he said. "There was a lot of good things. ... It comes up to the sidewalk."
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--Mai Hoang's Reporter's Notebook is published Mondays in the Marketplace section. To reach her, call 509-759-7851 or email firstname.lastname@example.org.