Trumbull seeks action on traffic backups at Starbucks drive-thru

TRUMBULL — A thorough review of traffic needs in the area around Trumbull Center is being complicated by coffee, according to members of the Planning & Zoning Commission.

Toward the end of last week’s April meeting, Town Planner Rob Librandi informed the commissioners that a study of Trumbull Center would be getting underway shortly. That prompted commissioner Anthony Chory to ask if there was anything the commission could do to address congestion at the Starbucks at 965 White Plains Road.

“The drive-thru at Starbucks is causing backups on White Plains Road,” Chory said.

The coffee shop has a long drive-thru queuing line that can accommodate about 15 vehicles. But at busy periods the line spills out into White Plains Road. Chory suggested adopting a similar plan to that utilized at some fast food locations during their lunch rush.

“I know at Duchess in Monroe when it’s backed up, they have somebody go outside, you pull ahead, and they deliver to the car,” he said. “I wonder if we, are we going to be able to do anything like that?”

Librandi said forcing a change at this point is unlikely.

“I think to force them to change anything now is going to be tough because they do have their approval,” Librandi said. “We can recommend that they do it.”

Chory recommended sending a formal letter urging the store to pick up the pace.

“What I would like to recommend is that we write them a formal letter saying that we feel they are not adequately moving people through the line, and during peak hours they should develop a plan to allow people to put an order in and move head in the line to deliver to relieve the backup on White Plains Road and in the parking lot,” he said. “I think they could do that. It doesn’t have to be a redesign of the parking lot. I could be just having extra people, during peak hours, figuring out a way to move people quicker.”

Tony Silber, who was acting chairman at the meeting, was supportive of Chory’s idea.

“I think that’s a reasonable request to make of the owner. It really is,” Silber said. “And they don’t have the same level of interior service, walk-in service anymore, so they could redeploy people.”

A request for comment on company policies or standards on speed of service, sent to the Starbucks Media Relations Team, was not immediately returned.

First Selectman Vicki Tesoro said the issue was not new, and in fact had been discussed when plans first began to solidify for the new shopping center at 965 White Plains Road in 2017. The center is anchored by a CVS pharmacy that, along with Starbucks, relocated across the street from their former locations at 938 White Plains Road, and also has a drive-thru.

“It’s a very busy road with the schools, and Route 25 and the Merritt Parkway,” Tesoro said.

Tesoro said the shopping center’s owners had taken action to help reduce the problem, creating a dedicated lane for Starbucks customers to wait. By making it more clear where the line should be, the gridlocked parking lot seems to have improved, she said.

“There is work being done, but more needs to be done,” she said.

Police Lt. Brian Weir said the department had been in touch with the state DOT exploring long-term and short-term options. White Plains Road, also known as Route 127, is a state highway and not under the town’s control. Weir said adjusting the timing of the stop lights at White Plains Road, Church Hill Road and Daniels Farm road could be an option. While it would not shorten the Starbucks line, it could improve traffic around the shopping center’s entrance.

“What happens is that when you reach the intersection on White Plains Road, it’s three lanes and two lanes go up Church Hill Road and one lane turns right onto Daniels Farm Road,” he said. “The light coming down Church Hill Road has a turn arrow, but if you’re trying to turn left into the shopping center, there’s no arrow. So you just sit there.”

Librandi said he was surprised at the demand for the drive-thru since the store’s previous location on the other side of White Plains Road had not had one.

“Their old location was just a few hundred feet away, and everyone managed to get their coffee,” he said.

He said he was surprised that the 15-car queuing line was full so often.

“When it was approved, it seemed like overkill because the standard is for five cars,” he said.

Librandi and Economic and Community Development Director Rina Bakalar expressed hope that warmer weather and relaxed COVID-19 restrictions would lead to more people getting out of their cars to order inside at the counter, thereby reducing the line at the drive-thru.

On a recent visit, Bakalar said she bypassed the 20-car line and ordered inside, where she was one of only two customers.

“I get it, I’ve been a single parent with a kid in the back, and now people are worried about being inside with people who maybe haven’t gotten the vaccine,” Bakalar said. “But I think, when table seating resumes and you can sit inside, that will bring people into the store.”