With Mayor John Stromberg casting the tie-breaking vote, the Ashland City Council has decided to loosen drive-thru window restrictions downtown.

With Mayor John Stromberg casting the tie-breaking vote, the Ashland City Council has decided to loosen drive-thru window restrictions downtown.

The vote came on Tuesday night, two weeks after the council let a proposal to loosen the rules die without any discussion. Two councilors had asked that the issue be considered again.

Four banks with drive-thru windows downtown will be allowed to move or remodel and still keep their drive-thrus.

The change could eventually pave the way for the Ashland Food Co-Op to expand its parking lot. The grocery store has been eyeing the adjacent Umpqua Bank property, but store managers felt the bank would never agree to move if it couldn't take its drive-thru window use with it.

Ashland adopted strict rules on drive-thrus in the 1980s in an effort to reduce gas consumption and air pollution and encourage pedestrian-friendly development.

Citywide, 12 drive-thrus are allowed, with most clustered in a business area near Exit 14.

City Councilors David Chapman, Mike Morris and Russ Silbiger voted to ease the downtown drive-thru rules, with the mayor joining them in that vote.

"When I tried to weigh the different aspects, we're not putting a lot at risk," Stromberg said, noting that the rule loosening will not allow any additional drive-thrus.

Proponents of the change, including representatives of the Ashland Food Co-Op, said the rule loosening would give the downtown banks more flexibility to move or remodel.

They said some of the bank buildings don't fit in with Ashland's historic downtown architecture.

Councilors Greg Lemhouse, Dennis Slattery and Carol Voisin voted against the move, saying they saw no compelling reason to make the change now, especially when Umpqua Bank hadn't asked for the change.

— Vickie Aldous