A Drive-Thru Window Saved His Business, but Now He’s Being Forced To Shut It Down

Robert Balitierrez was able to open a window after his restaurant closed due to public health regulations. Now city zoning officials have also closed that door.

Balitierrez, a Mexican restaurant owner and operator of Taco Boy in Mt. Pleasant for the last 13 years. Pleasant, Michigan. When the pandemic hit in 2020, Taco Boy—like all food and drink establishments in Michigan—was required by the state to shut down the dining room that brought in almost all its revenue.

In response, Balitierrez decided to open up a dormant drive-thru window that had come with the building and had been used by its previous occupants—a pharmacy and a restaurant. With enough orders, Taco Boy, the 50-year-old restaurant Balitierrez inherited, was able keep its doors open during COVID-19.

This proved to be uncontroversial for some time. However, Balitierrez was informed by city officials late last year that Mt. Pleasant’s code of zoning.

There are drive-thrus at nearby businesses, but the city acknowledges that Balitierrez’s window has no traffic impact or noise. The city has stated that it will close.

“Without [the drive-thru]It’s not clear if it would even be possible. It would mean that I had to fire some people. It’s gonna hurt,” Balitierrez tells There are reasons.

According to him, his drive-thru contributed about 20% of his last year’s sales and is still a substantial part of his business.

Mt. Pleasant’s zoning law requires that all drive-thrus have at least 200 feet of stacking space. This is how many vehicles can be parked in the drive-thru without affecting the vehicle movement on site or the access from the street.

The 200-foot extension into Taco Boy’s lot means that city staff claim it is interfering with vehicle movement on the site and must be removed.

Balitierrez contends that he is unfairly being singled because neighboring businesses have drive-thrus that don’t meet code and are permitted to continue operating unassisted. Balitierrez also claims that his drive-thru doesn’t cause any issues or complaints for the property owners around it.

Balitierrez’s assertion is not challenged by the city. The city’s staff prepared a report on Balitierrez’s drive-thru. It noted that there were no complaints about traffic or noise from adjacent properties.

Brian Kench, an official at the Mt. The Pleasant City government.

Kench tells There are reasonsNonconforming drives-thrus will be grandfathered in to the stacking space requirements as long they have been continuously operating since the regulations came into force.

Kench states, “If they close down for more than one year, it will have to meet current zoning requirements.” This means that Balitierrez’s drive-thru can’t be grandfathered and must now meet new regulations.

Balitierrez filed for a variance to his zoning in order to legallyize his drive-thru last month. His application states that he had always believed that the drive-thru window would be permissible because it was used by previous owners.

He claims that Taco Boy does not have sufficient cars outside of the Cinco de Mayo rush to need 200 feet of stacking room.

Mt. Pleasant’s Zoning Board of Appeals voted unanimously to reject Balitierrez’s request on December 15.

Kench states that there are only a handful of narrow criteria that could have permitted the board to approve a variance. These include the physical shape and topography of the property. Kench says that Balitierrez did not meet these criteria and his argument about economic hardship was insufficient.

Although it will have an impact on the business, Kench reminds you that his company has operated without it for many decades. Kench asserts that the generality of it cannot be such that 200 feet of stackable space is not feasible.

Balitierrez, who had his variance request denied by the zoning board has the option to petition the circuit court for hearing his case. Balitierrez is now considering this possibility.

Kench suggests that Balitierrez considers other ways to store his takeout restaurant, such as designated parking spots for customers who are waiting to place orders or partnering up with delivery apps companies. He also recommends reconfiguring his back lot so there is 200-foot stacking space.

Balitierrez insists on the fact that the cost of closing down his current window and the $10,000 spent to address other code problems on his property are real threats to his business.

This is my lifeline. He says that this is the livelihood of my employees. A small, independent business can take a huge hit like this and it is difficult to stay afloat.