Making Drive-Thrus a Boon, Not a Bane

Zoning Practice — December 2022

By Dwight Merriam, FAICP


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It is hard to overstate what the COVID-19 pandemic did to promote drive-through service. In a matter of days in March 2020, restaurants and other businesses scrambled to prioritize drive-through, drive-up, or carry-out service. While indoor dining bans were relatively short-lived in most communities, demand for drive-through service has remained high.

Most zoning is ultimately contextual. So too it is with drive-throughs, which are exceedingly beneficial in some locations, and utterly destructive to some objectives of planning and zoning when they are allowed in the wrong places. The challenge, sometimes a conundrum, is to decide when they are appropriate and, if so, how to best regulate them, leveraging the benefits and avoiding the burdens.

This issue of Zoning Practice explores how good planning and zoning can respond to increased demand for drive-through service. It begins with a quick look back to the days of carhops and their effects on subsequent drive-through services. Then, recognizing how the pandemic has affected a sea change in service, it presents a framework for regulating drive-throughs with floating zones, overlays, and use-specific standards.


Page Count
Date Published
Dec. 1, 2022
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American Planning Association

About the Author

Dwight Merriam, FAICP
Dwight H. Merriam, FAICP, a lawyer and land use planner, is a Fellow in the American College of Real Estate Lawyers, a Fellow and Past President and of the American Institute of Certified Planners, and Past Chair of the ABA Section of State and Local Government Law. He has published over 200 articles and 13 books, including co-editing the treatise Rathkopf’s The Law of Zoning and Planning. UMass BA (cum laude), UNC MRP, and Yale JD.