Taco Boy drive-thru controversy sparks community engagement


Taco Boy's drive-thru, located at 804 S Mission St., on Jan. 25. The drive-thru operates entirely through one window. 

“Frustration” is all that Robert Baltierrez, owner of Taco Boy, has felt since Mount Pleasant’s Zoning Board of Appeals (ZBA) denied a variance for the business’ drive-thru.

Taco Boy has been within the city for over 50 years and at its current location for the past 14. 

With the COVID-19 pandemic, Baltierrez used the drive-thru to continue its operations. 

Baltierrez said the drive-thru’s sales make up 25 percent of the restaurant’s profits. 

“Without (the drive-thru) it’s going to hurt my business," he said. "Without it, also, I’m probably going to have to let some of my employees go – which I don’t want to do because my employees are very loyal to me."

With the support of community members and other local businesses, Baltierrez is planning to take action against the city in circuit court if its decision doesn’t change.  

“They'll see the biggest lawsuit they have ever seen in the city – I guarantee you,” Baltierrez said. 

ZBA's decision

At the ZBA’s Dec. 15, 2021 meeting, Baltierrez requested a variance for the drive-thru to comply with 120 ft. stacking space as opposed to the 200 ft. required by the city’s zoning ordinance. 

This stacking space is used to accommodate the queuing of the line to ensure vehicles are not impeding traffic. 

The restaurant’s drive-thru variance was denied – the motion needed three members to approve the request but only received two. 

“I was floored. I was devastated,” Baltierrez said. “I walked away from that meeting and almost broke down.” 

This denial means that Taco Boy cannot bring this request back to the ZBA for one year.

During the ZBA’s meeting, concerns arose since their decision would be tied with the property – therefore, businesses after Taco Boy could benefit from this variance. 

“Since it stays with the property, let’s say a coffee shop goes in... and we approve this 120 ft stacking lane," ZBA Commissioner Corey Friedrich said at the meeting. "The drive-thru at the coffee place is actually really long and they end up either blocking traffic coming into the parking lot or they’re backed out right onto the street… I do have concerns about that."

The ZBA meeting addressed that if the business ceases its operations of its drive-thru for one year or more then it must follow the city’s ordinance. 

Baltierrez said businesses prior to Taco Boy, such as Mission Pharmacy and Tony’s Restaurant, used the drive-thru, and he believed he was “grandfathered” into the variance.

“I was never told by the city of Mount Pleasant that if I didn't open that drive-thru in the first year that it's no longer grandfathered in,” Baltierrez said. “To me being grandfathered in is being grandfathered in regardless of when I open it.” 

City Planner, Jacob Kain, said the business’ use changed when it became a restaurant and not a drive-thru restaurant – there is not an “automatic right to revert back” to the property’s prior use. 

Due to this change, Kain said that the term "grandfathering" does not work in this case. 

“If a restaurant that had a drive-thru or a restaurant that served liquor was replaced by a restaurant that didn't do those things – in order to then do those things later down the road you'd have to go back to the planning commission and get approval," Kain said. "You'd have to meet the rules and regulations in place at that time." 

Kain offered one possible solution for the issue, which would result in using Baltierrez's vacant lot to the left of Taco Boy to construct the extra space for his drive-thru. 

Baltierrez said the costs and the chance of lowering the lot’s property value takes that option off the table.

“It would cost me roughly between $20,000 (to) $30,000… because I would have to pave that whole back area, put lights in back,” Baltierrez said. “I don’t have that kind of money.” 

Robert Baltierrez, owner of Taco Boy, poses for a photo on Jan. 25. Baltierrez is asking the city to reconsider denying a variance for Taco Boy's drive-thru. 

Community reaction

Community members and local businesses are showing their support for Taco Boy. 

A change.org petition was created and has received nearly 3,000 signatures for the business to keep its drive-thru. 

Local businesses like C&O Sportswear and Freddie’s Tavern have also helped the business through donations of t-shirts that say “Save Taco Boy”. These t-shirts are donated to Baltierrez who can then sell them to make money to support his business. 

Taco Boy is appreciative of all of the community’s feedback. 

“I'd like to thank all the small businesses that have stepped up and stood behind us because we've had a lot. Freddie’s Tavern especially has stepped up and done a lot for us,” Baltierrez said. “We have a lot of backing by the people in the community and by a lot of small businesses at this point.” 

Fred Phillips, owner of Freddie’s Tavern, “had no problem” helping Taco Boy and has donated over $700 to the restaurant. 

“We want to support our fellow business people," Phillips said. "We want them to survive (and) we want our businesses to be healthy so that the town is healthy."

Taco Boy’s next step

The restaurant is planning to take legal action if things do not change. Baltierrez said he is waiting for a letter from the city so he can appeal the decision to circuit court.

“I'm angry at the city (and) I think that our planning commission is hurting our city,” Baltierrez said. 

Baltierrez said he has helped organizations in the community such as the Special Olympics and the soup kitchen. He is concerned how he will continue to do that. 

“I have done so much for this city.  I help so many different organizations with what I do,” Baltierrez said. “I give back to the community. I don’t put it in my pocket… I can’t help none of these people if I am struggling.”

Kain said the city is trying to work with Taco Boy, but there are rules that must be followed. 

"We're always interested in working with folks to find solutions, but ultimately we also have to respect the standards adopted on our ordinances," Kain said. "So we're going to continue to do that in this case, like we would in any other case, and hope that we can find a good outcome for everybody."

Taco Boy questions its future with this decision, and Baltierrez wants the city to reconsider. 

“I wish they would reconsider and allow me to continue to operate my business the way it is, so that we can stay in this community longer,” he said. 

Taco Boy Restaurant, located at 804 S Mission St., on Jan. 25.