CASA GRANDE — A long-delayed Mexican food restaurant has been given the green light by the Casa Grande Planning and Zoning Commission.

Plans for Riliberto’s, a 24-hour, 2,764-square-foot restaurant with a drive-thru at the southwest corner of Cottonwood Lane and Pinal Avenue, had been on and off the commission’s agenda at least four times since October while the owners and city staff worked on a way to accommodate a full-service driveway for the restaurant on Cottonwood Lane. The driveway would allow for both right and left turns into and out of the restaurant’s parking lot.

The main concern of the commissioners Thursday was the possibility of a serious accident caused by a customer entering or leaving that driveway on Cottonwood. An attempt to amend the request to limit the Cottonwood driveway to right in/right out-only turns failed by a 4-3 vote.

A vote to approve the project with the full-service driveway was approved by a 6-1 vote.

Tove White, a CivTech traffic engineer hired by Riliberto’s to study the situation, tried to calm the commissioners’ concerns by presenting evidence from a 24-hour traffic study her firm had completed in November.

That traffic study, plus a previous traffic study completed by CivTech in 2018, show that while at times it may be difficult to make a left turn into or out of the restaurant’s parking lot, it is unlikely that having a full-service driveway would make the area less safe for motorists than it has been historically.

White proposed that restricting the Cottonwood Lane drive to a right in/right out might actually cause more problems because motorists wanting to make a left out of the parking lot may make an inappropriate U-turn farther down Cottonwood Lane.

She also pointed out that Riliberto’s expects most of its customers to arrive at the restaurant between the hours of 7 p.m. and 7 a.m., as at its Mesa restaurant, when traffic along Cottonwood Lane is at its lowest volume.

Commissioners David Snider, Fred Tucker, Mikel McBride and Dennis Dugan all raised concerns about the impact the driveway would have on traffic safety on Cottonwood Lane.

Snider said he supported having a restaurant on that corner but was concerned about traffic safety on Cottonwood.

“I’ve seen drivers coming out of the QuikTrip pull some pretty scary stuff trying to make that northbound left turn lane,” Snider said.

He also pointed out that a large number of semi-trucks use that intersection and with additional traffic expected from Lucid Motors and other new industries, he only expected traffic, especially trucks, along Cottonwood Lane to get worse. And if Riliberto’s is successful, the restaurant’s daytime traffic could pick up, leading to more traffic conflicts, Snider said.

Tucker asked if the driveway would be wide enough to accommodate two cars, one turning left and one turning right out of the parking lot, as well as accept a car turning into the parking lot. He raised concerns that if the driveway wasn’t wide enough, traffic in the parking lot could back up while someone waited to make a left turn out of the lot.

Dugan asked about the possibility of an accident caused by someone trying to turn left into the parking lot at the same time that someone tried to turn left out of the parking lot. He also raised concerns about traffic backing up on Cottonwood Lane because someone wanted to make a left turn into the restaurant’s parking lot.

“Who do you think they’re going to sue if there’s a serious accident?” he asked.

He also asked what percentage of inbound traffic the restaurant expected to use the Cottonwood Lane entrance.

White said the restaurant expected only 20% of the inbound traffic to turn left into or out of the Cottonwood Lane driveway during the restaurant’s busiest time. She expected drive-thru customers to find the Pinal Avenue entrance, which is a right turn in and out-only driveway, to be more convenient because of its proximity to the drive-thru lane.

Tucker and Dugan asked city Traffic Engineer Duane Eitel what options the city would have if it wanted to change the driveway to a right turn in and out lane only at a later date. Eitel said a traffic island could be created in the middle of the driveway to restrict turns in a few days. The city could also install a central median on Cottonwood Lane but that would take longer.

A motion to approve a conditional use permit to allow the restaurant to be built on the location was then unanimously approved.

A motion to amend the restaurant’s site plan to include a right turn in and out-only driveway on Cottonwood Lane was then proposed by McBride but failed by a 4-3 vote. A motion to approve the site plan with the full-access driveway was then proposed and passed by a 6-1 vote.

The commission also:

  • Heard a presentation on preparations for creating a new general plan for the city.
  • Approved a request for a conditional use permit for a model home and approval of housing product design for LGI Homes for lots within the Ghost Hollow subdivision.
  • Approved housing product for Wade Jurney Homes for The Greens subdivision.
  • Approved a conditional use permit to add onto an existing home on Ninth Street that is in a commercially zoned area.
  • Approved a conditional use permit for a model home and approval of housing product for Gehan Homes in Monterra Village.