At its Monday, April 17 meeting, the Maple Grove City Council reversed its decision to deny the concept and development plans for Portillo’s, a Chicago Italian beef and hot dog chain.
Portillo’s is looking to bring a 9,000-square-foot restaurant building to the northern portion of the existing parking lot of the Shoppes, just east of the primary entrance from Elm Creek Boulevard to the shopping center.
The building would also have a drive-through service, which could accommodate up to 37 vehicles at one time.
City Attorney George Hoff said that, at the previous council meeting, the council directed him to draft a resolution denying the application for Portillo’s. The vote was 3 to 2, with Mayor Mark Steffenson and councilor Phil Leith voting to keep Portillo’s.
The council heard from the applicants.
Portillo’s CEO Keith Kinsey said, “One of the things from the previous meeting, there were several questions that were brought up relative to the handicapped parking, the clause easements and the way we do drive through. We do a lot of training. We spend eight weeks training our teams.”
Councilor Karen Jaeger said she had asked for more handicapped parking. Kinsey said the plan originally had three, but now there are five spaces.
“I think one of the questions that existed last time had to do with the traffic flow through the drive through and how that works,” Mayor Steffenson said. “Maybe you could explain that.”
Kinsey said there are four to eight people that work the drive through that get people in and out quickly. There are people that take orders and call it in, some that take money and some that deliver the orders to the vehicle once the food is ready.
Councilor Leith mentioned he was recently in Chicago on a business trip and found the busiest Portillo’s there. “I had lunch there and sat in my car between noon and 12:30 p.m. and watch the drive through work,” he said. “I must admit it was very efficient. It never filtered out of the drive through area. I was impressed with out it worked.”
Members of the audience were also allowed to addressed the council. Some of the comments included the following.
Doreen Ritchey, of Maple Grove, said she came to try and sway at least one council member to change their vote. “It’s a good family restaurant,” she said. “I understand traffic is a concern.”
She added she was surprised there didn’t seem to be a problem to hand out permits for housing developments, but the council couldn’t okay a family restaurant.
Maple Grove resident Tom Huss said as far as traffic flow goes, people will adjust.
Terry Sharp, of Maple Grove, said the first and last place he goes to when he is in Chicago is Portillo’s. “It would be a tremendous asset to Maple Grove,” he said. “We’ll have two destinations — Central Park and Portillo’s. We will be bring people in from all over the Twin Cities to come to Portillo’s.”
Adam Wells started a petition online, asking the council to allow Portillo’s to come to Maple Grove. He said there were more than 1,700 signatures.
Resident Nick Mannel said the restaurant would be a big draw to the city from people out of town. “If you’re going to be driving from out of town, you’re going to stay in town,” he said.
Members of the council also gave their input.
Councilor Kristy Barnett asked why the planning commission did not give its recommendation for approval. Community Development Director Dick Edwards said it centered around the traffic flow on the site and some parking. The commission had a 2 to 2 vote.
Mayor Steffenson asked if there were any concerns about the traffic along Elm Creek Boulevard. Edwards said no and that the road was under its maximum capacity.
Councilor Judy Hanson said, “One of the other reasons I made my decision for denial [last meeting] really had to do with traffic and whether we could handle the capacity. So tonight, it sounds like you’re telling me that we can with the addition with Portillo’s.”
She added she was previously concerned with the congestion that could be caused by the drive through. “Is that still a concern?” she asked. Edwards said there was no out-right evidence that it would happen.
“I’m still feeling uncomfortable,” Hanson said. “I came here tonight really planning to vote no, but now that I’m hearing things from our staff it kind of takes some of the wind out of my sails.”
Councilor Jaeger added she was happy the handicapped parking had been addressed. “I am happy to change my vote and I will be very happy to have Portillo’s come to Maple Grove.”
Leith said he will continue to support the Portillo’s plans.
Barnett said that original vision of the Shoppes was have the parking not be designated for any one business. She added the council was now being asked to designate parking for Portillo’s and to change the concept plan of the Shoppes at Arbor Lakes. “At this point in time I don’t feel Portillo’s is suitable for the location,” she said. “I’m not saying it’s not suitable for Maple Grove.”
Mayor Steffenson concluded, “I’ve tried to view this from the perspective of what’s in the best interest of our mall… the retailers that are there. I know Portillo’s is a great restaurant. We would be excited to have your here.”
The council first voted 4 to 1 to deny adopting the previous resolution that rejected the concept and development stage plans for Portillo’s.
Councilor Barnett said, “I’m somewhat disappointed in this council in that we didn’t take the time when we have to explore potential ways to make public safety for the pedestrians and the cars within Arbor Lakes [to] make it a better experience for them.”
The council then voted 4 to 1 (Barnett opposed) to direct the city attorney to draft a resolution approving the concept and development stage plan for Portillo’s. Barnett voted against.