The fate of the drive-through lane at the Starbucks on Snelling and Marshall avenues remains unclear, as Saint Paul and Starbucks corporate staff review options for the coffee shop. Those options could include a change to the shop’s conditional use permit or permanently closing the drive-through option.

The drive-through was shut down in April after Starbucks employees objected to off-duty, uniformed police conducting morning traffic control there. The coffee shop remains open for walk-in customers, and motorists can also order coffee and have it brought out to their vehicles.

“We’ve temporarily closed the drive-through and shifted operations while the local team continues to discuss a long-term solution that meets the needs of this community,” said Starbucks spokesperson Reggie Borges.

No timeline for a solution has been set for one of the busiest Starbucks locations in the Twin Cities.

   
Starbucks
The Starbucks at Snelling and Marshall avenues has been controversial even before it opened in 2017. Photo by Lou Michaels

Off-duty Saint Paul police officers have not worked traffic control at the Snelling-Marshall Starbucks since April 11, the day Daunte Wright was fatally shot by a Brooklyn Center police officer. Civil unrest followed the shooting, along with looting and property damage to businesses in Minneapolis, Saint Paul and Brooklyn Center.

When the Police Department went back to regular off-duty traffic control at the shop, Starbucks indicated it no longer wanted officers there, said Sergeant Natalie Davis. All off-duty police staffing at the location was then canceled.

However, a traffic control officer is required at the shop’s driveway on Marshall as part of Starbucks’ conditional use permit with the city. The officer is provided at Starbucks’ expense.

 

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Under city ordinances, traffic control personnel operating in the public right-of-way for Starbucks must be uniformed city police officers, according to city Department of Safety and Inspections spokesperson Suzanne Donovan. Any change to the conditions would require city Planning Commission approval.

Starbucks has generated controversy since 2015, when the original permit was granted for it to replace a vacant former gas station at the corner. That permit did not require traffic control officers.

“We’ve temporarily closed the drive-through and shifted operations while the local team continues to discuss a long-term solution that meets the needs of this community,” said Starbucks spokesperson Reggie Borges.

Traffic tie-ups began almost immediately after the coffee shop opened in early 2017, with long lines of vehicles blocking the sidewalk, traffic and bikes lanes on Marshall. That led to the hashtag #carbucks and the intersection being dubbed “Snarshall.”

Bollards that were set up to delineate the bike lane were often broken. Vehicular accidents resulted in property damage and, at times, injuries.

The shop’s conditional use permit was modified in 2018 after Starbucks and the city and Ramsey County public works departments tried different configurations for the access to Marshall, which is a county road. Starbucks also spent about $100,000 on changes to the Marshall driveway, drive-through lane and on-site parking. The changes allow up to 12 vehicles to line up in the lot, two or three more than before.

The Union Park district Council and Saint Paul Bicycle Coalition were among those who opposed the revised site plan and permit changes, which included the requirement for traffic control officers. The Planning Commission received more than 40 letters opposing the modifications and the drive-through itself.

Opponents contended the measures would not be enough to deal with the traffic problems. However, the commission approved the changes, indicating that some improvements were better than allowing the situation to continue in its current state.

— Jane McClure

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