While the Duluth Planning Commission approved a special-use permit for a 300-square-foot Popeyes Louisiana Kitchen restaurant at the southwest corner of Anderson Road and Central Entrance on Tuesday night, it advised the developer that plans for a proposed two-lane drive-thru would need to be downsized.

City Planner Kyle Deming explained that the property in question is zoned mixed use-neighborhood, an area where restaurants are allowed only with a special-use permit. But any permitted drive-thru operations can be no larger than a single lane in width.

A representative of the Louisiana-based Popeyes said that about 70% to 80% of the chain's business is drive-thru, and during the pandemic, even more of its sales have been to passing motorists. He warned that without a two-lane order line, traffic may stack up and spill into the entryway or even the street.

While he stopped short of calling the single-lane drive-thru restriction a deal-breaker, he said it was a definite concern.

Planning Commissioner Zandra Zwiebel asked if an exception couldn't be made, given the commercial nature of the area and the unlikelihood that the drive-thru would disrupt area residents.

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However, Assistant City Attorney Bob Asleson said the planning commission lacked authority to deviate from city code. He suggested any such code modification would need to be made by the Duluth City Council or via a zoning change.

Adam Fulton, deputy director of Duluth's planning and economic development authority, said, "This is a transitional area, and that's what makes it complicated. Central Entrance is very commercial. It's a busy street and a primary state highway. But it's still serving a neighborhood function. That's why it's a state highway with a 30 mph speed limit. But it is a transitional area between our commercial district at Miller Hill and the neighborhood."