Starbucks on Millwood rendering 2019

A rendering of a proposed Starbucks-anchored development on Millwood Avenue.

Despite pushback from a number of citizens, the City of Columbia's zoning board on Sept. 10 gave a key approval to a project that would see a Starbucks built on the 3000 block of Millwood Avenue, where a number of longstanding businesses currently are located.

The board of zoning appeals voted 5-1 to grant a special exception for developer Stan Harpe and Capital Development Corp. for the stretch from 3011 to 3023 Millwood for the Starbucks project. The special exception is required for businesses in Columbia to have a drive-thru window. Board member George Schafer cast the dissenting vote.

The site where the Starbucks would be built currently is home to a number of local businesses, among them Revente's Second Chances, a clothing store that donates profits to The Women's Shelter, an organization that helps women who are facing homelessness and domestic violence. Debbie McDaniel, Revente's Second Chances owner, has indicated she'll be looking for another location for the shop. Other businesses currently along that strip just west of Dreher high school include a dry cleaner, a dog grooming facility and The Birdhouse furniture shop.

The site in question is bounded by Millwood, Butler and Carlisle streets. Current site plans show entrances and exits to the Starbucks project on Millwood and Butler.

Attorney Robert Fuller, representing the developers on the project, said the plans to bring the national coffee giant to busy Millwood Avenue would not have an adverse impact on the area, because there are not many drive-thru businesses currently on that road.

"There is not anything like a concentration or proliferation [of drive-thrus] along the Millwood corridor or at or near this intersection," Fuller said. He did note there is a Dunkin' Donuts with a drive-thru about a quarter-mile from the proposed Starbucks site, across from Dreher High.

Still, neighbors near the would-be Starbucks site spoke at the Sept. 10 hearing and expressed their concerns about the traffic that could be created via a major chain setting up shop with a drive-thru that could end up servicing several hundred cars per day.

Columbia attorney Jay Bender said he lives nearby, and already is subject to speeding traffic in the area.

"I understand there has been a traffic study [approved] by the Department of Transportation," Bender said. "I would remind you that those were the people that designed Malfunction Junction [where I-20 and I-26 meet]. I suspect they have never been at this intersection at rush hour, when the people coming from east Columbia drive 50 miles an hour through the Dreher school zone and continue the Millwood 500 all the way down to Gervais Street." 

John Sherrer is a longtime resident of the nearby Melrose Heights neighborhood. While he acknowledged that having Starbucks anchoring a new development would likely be a "very successful venture," he added that it would likely "exacerbate already bad traffic issues."

"It's going to imperil a lot of folks, including the students at Dreher, who, each day, take their lives in their own hands trying to cross that major artery," Sherrer said. 

Sherrer also briefly argued for the preservation of the pagoda-style building that currently is home to The Birdhouse. It was once a florist shop and, according to a letter sent to the zoning board by citizen Bethany Tisdale, "is the last remaining structure of Mitsuo Tokunaga's greenhouse and florist empire and one of few pieces of Asian American history in Columbia"

Tokunaga and his family ran greenhouses and florist businesses in Columbia, including on Millwood Avenue, for decades in the early-to-mid 20th century. 

"If the developer really wants to make the best effort to embrace the interests of the neighborhoods proximal to the parcel, and the larger cultural heritage of the city, arrive at a more creative design, one that integrates the distinctive mid-century modern pagoda-style building that is a tangible link to the Tokunaga family's impact on generations of citizens," Sherrer said.

Renderings, maps and slides of the proposed Starbucks project displayed at the Sept. 10 meeting did not include the pagoda-style building. City zoning administrator Rachel Bailey tells Free Times that the parcels involved in the project do not fall within a design and preservation area and, therefore, demolition, design and site plans would not be subject to an historic preservation and architectural review. 

Bailey added that she did not foresee the project requiring any further city board approvals.

Schafer, the lone dissenting board member, expressed concern about the impact on nearby residences, in terms of noise and exhaust emissions, from cars that will queue up at the Starbucks drive-thru.

"To say that this proposed special exception, specifically related to the drive-thru component, will not have an adverse impact on adjoining parcels in terms of environmental factors is false. It will," Schafer said. "So, the question is, does that mean we never allow drive-thrus? I think the answer to that is, 'No.' Does that mean there are some sites that are particularly troublesome in terms of adjacencies? I think the answer is 'Yes,' and I think this is one of those, because 50 feet away you have residential housing."

There were citizens who spoke in favor of the Millwood Starbucks project on Sept. 10, including Melrose Heights resident Fred Easley. 

"I have three 17 year olds that live in my house and they all love Starbucks," Easley said. "They go to Starbucks to study, they meet their friends at Starbucks. They [currently] have to go to Trenholm Plaza, they have to go to Target. They cannot go to Five Points because that is overrun by college students. It would make my life more convenient if it was a little bit closer."

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