Campbell residents searching for someplace closer than San Jose’s Blossom Hill or Rose Garden areas to grab a Double-Double and Animal Fries are straight out of luck.
The Campbell City Council on Tuesday took the first step in denying In-N-Out Burger’s application to replace the empty Elephant Bar at 499 E. Hamilton Ave. But council members decided that they couldn’t overlook the traffic jams that the fast-foot joint’s drive-through would no doubt cause.
Residents have been split over the issue since the project’s submission more than two years ago. Proponents say In-N-Out would boost sales tax revenue and offer residents more late-night dining options. But critics worry that neighboring streets—and the adjacent Highway 17 on- and off-ramps—are ill-prepared to handle the influx of drive-through-related traffic.
Jim Lockington, In-N-Out Burger’s project manager, addressed the opposition during the public comment portion of the meeting saying that, “they’ve thrown everything, including the kitchen sink, into their arguments.”
“There is a small, committed group, primarily of neighborhood residents, who oppose the In-N-Out development plan primarily on the grounds of presumed traffic impact and claims of an inadequate drive-through queue,” he added. “They launched a website in the days of our June 2017 application and filled it with outlandish and unsupported claims that our development would bring rampant crime, unchecked noise, trash and unmanageable traffic on Hamilton Avenue.”
When asked for his thoughts after the meeting, Lockington brushed past this reporter with a brusque “no comment.”
Despite some of the council members voicing their love for the restaurant, they all ultimately agreed that Hamilton Avenue just wasn’t the right place for such a popular drive-through destination. Per City Manger Brian Loventhal’s advice, the council came up with a list of potential reasons for denial that mainly involved the traffic the project could cause. The city attorney will vet those reasons and return to the council Nov. 5 with a final resolution to deny the permit.
“I think there’s consensus that there’s going to be a lot of traffic,” Mayor Rich Waterman told San Jose Inside. “Hamilton is already pretty busy and that’s going to make it worse. A big issue with that is also queuing. What happens when too many people want to come into In-N-Out and there’s not enough spots for them?”
In-N-Out had proposed a double drive-through lane with space for 28 cars, but many residents who weighed in said that still wasn’t enough.
Campbell is hardly alone in saying no to a new drive-through. Due to heightened concerns about idling cars, many cities are making the car-centric concept a thing of the past. According to a recent NPR story, more and more municipalities want to ban drive-throughs altogether, with Minneapolis being the latest city to enact a prohibition.
A backed up drive-through could lead to even more problems on Hamilton Avenue as drivers try to navigate off and on the oft-snarled Highway 17. To mitigate the increased traffic flow, officials suggested that In-N-Out chip in money for the widening of Hamilton and Salmar avenues for the southbound highway off-ramp. A nearby Kohl’s kicked in money for road widening years ago, but Caltrans has yet to complete the project.
“I really feel that [with] this project, we’re trying to fit a business into a site that really isn’t adequate to support that,” Councilwoman Anne Bybee said. “Their business model is that they like to locate their business adjacent to the freeway with easy access on and off. That, to me, [is] not going to benefit Campbell other than the revenue it’ll generate.”
While Councilman Paul Resnikoff didn’t support In-N-Out opening up on Hamilton Avenue, he said his biggest concern is leaving the property vacant. The Elephant Bar shuttered in October 2016 and the building has since sat empty behind wire fencing and an overgrowth of trees.
“We’ve seen properties that are empty for a long time—like A&W,” Resnikoff said. “Prior to it getting redeveloped, they had meth users there. It got redeveloped and stayed empty for a few years. [Then], they had homeless move [into] it.”
Councilwoman Liz Gibbons said she has other visions for the lot—ones that would maximize the 75-foot height limit.
“What’s the highest and best use of the land?” she asked. “This project does not maximize the benefit of the site for the community. The city has to take into consideration what else could go there and I do think that something with a higher use for a parcel is something we have to consider.”
Campbell’s council members aren’t the only elected officials to oppose the project.
Former Santa Clara County Supervisor Ken Yeager has also voiced opposition to the project. In a November 2017 letter, he wrote, “as a former city council member, I understand that cities need to encourage commercial development in order to build a tax base to support city services.”
“However,” he went on to say, “the location of this proposed development concerns me due to the severe traffic congestion in this area.”
Kathy Tran, a spokeswoman for Assemblyman Evan Low said Tuesday that the ex-Campbell mayor didn’t think the proposed location was a good fit for the city, either.
“Traffic is a major point of concern,” Tran stated. “[The] Hamilton Avenue and Highway 17 intersection are usually backed up, and the addition of a popular fast food chain will only exacerbate that.”
That said, Low’s a big fan of In-N-Out fan. And for what it’s worth, according to Tran, his typical order is two burgers “protein style“ and well-done fries.