December 8, 2023

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Lexington council denies Dutch Bros opening in ‘Blue Arby’s’

Lexington council denies Dutch Bros opening in ‘Blue Arby’s’

Oregon-based Dutch Bros Coffee plans to open its first Kentucky location in Lexington.

Oregon-based Dutch Bros Coffee plans to open its first Kentucky location in Lexington.


An Oregon-based coffee chain has lost its bid to build a double drive-thru coffee kiosk on South Limestone near the University of Kentucky’s campus.

Dutch Bros applied for a zone change at 507 S. Limestone from a neighborhood zone to a neighborhood business zone for the construction of a 967-square foot, single-story Dutch Bros coffee house with a double-lane drive-thru.

The Urban County Planning Commission voted 8-1 to deny the application in February.

During a Thursday Lexington-Fayette Urban County Council hearing on the zone change, the council failed to get enough votes to reverse the commission’s decision or approve it.

The commission’s decision to deny the zone change stands.

To reverse the commission’s decision, the council needed 8 of 11 votes. A motion to approve the zone change failed 6-5.

Dutch Bros efforts to enter the Lexington market have been stymied in recent months. The planning commission also denied an application for a zone change on South Broadway in March. The council is expected to hear an appeal of that zone change soon.

Dutch Bros is currently building a coffee shop on New Circle Road at the site of a former Sonic. It will be the first Dutch Bros location in Kentucky.

The Arby’s location at 507 S. Limestone in Lexington, Ky., photographed Tuesday, July 30, 2019.
The Arby’s location at 507 S. Limestone in Lexington, Ky., photographed Tuesday, July 30, 2019. Ryan C. Hermens [email protected]

Traffic, density a concern

Lexington planning staff recommended the commission not approve the zone change, citing concerns with traffic in and out of a property in a high pedestrian area near UK’s campus.

Moreover, the city’s comprehensive plan, which guides development, encourages more dense development along the city’s main corridors, including South Limestone Street, city planners said during Thursday’s council hearing.

Bruce Simpson, a lawyer for Dutch Bros, said the site has been vacant since the iconic Blue Arby’s closed in 2019. Dutch Bros had proposed a drive-thru with no interior dining. Entrance and exits would be limited to Colfax Street. There would be walk-up service available fronting South Limestone.

Moreover, no neighbors of the property have opposed the zone change, Simpson said.

Simpson argued that more density at that location — which is where Nicholasville and South Limestone splits into two-way — is not feasible.

“It will be less traffic than an Arby’s,” Simpson argued. Simpson said the site has operated as a restaurant since 1974.

Yet, some council members had concerns about pedestrian and vehicle traffic in the area.

The property is where South Limestone and Nicholasville Road splits. That’s five lanes of traffic into and out of the property, which makes getting to the property tricky and dangerous, said Councilwoman Hannah LeGris, who represents the area.

That area, near UK, has a lot of pedestrians, she said.

LeGris voted against approval of the zone change.

Vice Mayor Dan Wu agreed. Wu said he, too, had concerns about pedestrian safety.

Other council members said the property was unique. If more density was needed at that location, developers would have built it but that hasn’t happened.

Councilman James Brown, who voted in favor of the zone change, said the property was unique. It’s been vacant since 2019.

Councilwoman Denise Gray agreed. Gray said she did not want people to think Lexington was closed for business or that it was unfriendly to new businesses.

Councilors who voted in favor of the zone change were: Brown, Gray, Jennifer Reynolds, David Sevigny, Brenda Monarrez and Chuck Ellinger. Those who voted against the zone change: LeGris, Wu, Liz Sheehan, Tayna Fogle, Shayla Lynch.

Beth Musgrave has covered government and politics for the Herald-Leader for more than a decade. A graduate of Northwestern University, she has worked as a reporter in Kentucky, Indiana, Mississippi, Illinois and Washington D.C.