Commission recommends approval
A Raising Cane’s chicken finger restaurant without a side helping of traffic hassles is proposed for Burnsville.
The popular fast food chain plans to build on the site of the former Pier 1 Imports store in the Aurora Village shopping center at the southeast corner of county roads 42 and 5. The closed Pier 1 store, which last did service as a COVID-19 testing site, would be demolished.
The sometimes-notorious drive-thru queues at other Raising Cane’s locations were top of mind for city staffers reviewing the proposal and, a company official said, the company itself.
Kurt Chatfield, planning manager for Dakota County, added his concern in an email to the city that vehicles waiting in line could back up onto County Road 42 — “and that would be a real problem of course.”
But all parties appear confident the restaurant’s two drive-thru lanes and supplemental traffic management plans will keep a lid on problems.
The Burnsville Planning Commission voted unanimously April 26 to recommend approval of a planned unit development amendment to allow the project. It goes to the City Council May 4.
“I have a question,” Commissioner Ali Awad said. “How soon can I eat at Cane’s in Burnsville?”
“Before the year’s out, if we’re lucky,” replied Melanie Bagley, property development manager for Raising Cane’s, most of whose business is drive-thru.
Raising Cane’s-mania is evident at the chain’s Apple Valley location at County Road 42 and Cedar Avenue, which Chatfield cited in his email. Lines of waiting vehicles sometimes back far onto the 42 frontage road.
“It’s a very blatant example of what happens when a restaurant is very popular and doing very well,” Bagley said, Zooming in from Allen, Texas.
“I can tell you that since I started with Cane’s, probably a little over two years ago, I have seen the focus shift exponentially to mitigating issues with regard to the drive-thru,” she said. “It is a conversation we are having daily. We were having that conversation prior to COVID and during COVID and now that we expect things to start opening back up — as we will, opening our dining rooms — we expect it to maybe change again. But we are implementing measures almost on a weekly basis to make sure that our restaurants are performing well and we don’t have issues like stacking back onto 42.”
The Burnsville site has stacking capacity for 28 vehicles, more than twice the minimum of 12 required by city ordinance for two drive-thru lanes.
No other Raising Cane’s in Minnesota has dual drive-thru lanes, said Ben Johnson, a consultant on the project.
Traffic counts at Raising Cane’s restaurants in Eagan, Apple Valley, Shoreview and West St. Paul confirm a significant increase in drive-thru business, he said.
But the Burnsville site “could handle any of those other sites that are currently sort of overloaded, if you want to say that, in terms of being able to stack all those vehicles on site,” Johnson said. “I think that’s a benefit to this project.”
The company has even added more fryers at its restaurants for faster customer service, Bagley said. Its average wait time from ordering to delivery is down to two minutes and 28 seconds per customer, she said.
If stacking at the Burnsville site exceeds 28 vehicles, employees will put up cones and direct traffic, City Planner Deb Garross said.
The approval recommendation includes a condition that the company submit a study six months after the restaurant opens confirming that the drive-thru queues are contained to the property. If they aren’t, the site would have to be reconfigured, “potentially with bollards and restriping,” said a city staff report.
“They are very complete, I think, in what they are proposing,” Garross said.
The project will bring new customers to the 31-year-old Aurora Village center, the report said.
“The building design and site landscaping and green space will provide a substantial improvement to the site and modernize the shopping center,” it said. “The project has been designed to complement the existing buildings within Aurora Village while creating a fresh new development that is attractive and inviting.”
A Banfield Pet Hospital was recently approved for the former Burger Jones space at Aurora Village.
“I’m glad that we saw a project two weeks ago in this particular development and we’re seeing another one now,” Commission Chair Robert Timmerman said.