Keeper of the Plans

Starlite Drive-In owner explains theater's proposed zoning change

Chuck Bucinski is the owner of the Starlite Drive-In. He recently filed for an application to change the zoning on his theater land at 3900 S. Hydraulic Ave.
Chuck Bucinski is the owner of the Starlite Drive-In. He recently filed for an application to change the zoning on his theater land at 3900 S. Hydraulic Ave. File photo

Chuck Bucinski, the owner of Wichita’s Starlite Drive-In, said this week that his application for a zoning change on the theater’s land is for estate-planning purposes.

“It was a recommendation from my attorney — it’s just for estate planning. That is the only reason,” Bucinski said, calling the current zoning "very old."

Last month, Bucinski — who has owned the Starlite since 2016 — filed an application with the city to change the zoning of his theater land at 3900 S. Hydraulic Ave.

As it stands now, the land can be used only for a drive-in theater.

The change would allow for “a greater number of industrial and commercial uses” on the Starlite land.

Bucinski quickly denied that there are any plans for change at the theater, Wichita’s last remaining drive-in.

“We are operating and running,” he said.

The application for the zoning change itself cost $2,245.

A public hearing to consider the zoning request is scheduled for 1:30 p.m. Thursday at the Metropolitan Area Planning Commission, 271 W. Third.

The drive-in has not publicly acknowledged its intentions for filing the zoning-change application, leading to rampant speculation from theater fans.

Some online are prognosticating the end of the Starlite Drive-In.

The day the Eagle article was published, the theater responded to it in a Facebook post, but after about 45 minutes, the post was deleted.

“The Starlite Drive-In Theater would like to thank everyone for their thoughts and concerns regarding the Wichita Eagle article,” the post read. “The drive-in remains open for your outdoor movie experience with your family and friends. Make sure to continue to check out our current and upcoming features. See you all this Thursday-Sunday!”

Comments skewed negative, asking the theater for more transparency.

Before Bucinski owned the theater, the Starlite Drive-In received donations from the community to help it upgrade to digital projectors (and essentially prevent its closure).

Upgrading both projectors cost about $100,000 each in 2013.

The Starlite’s longtime owner and manager both died in 2015, and Bucinski bought the theater from owner Jim Goble’s estate with a $146,983.91 mortgage, according to county filings.

When Wichita's drive-in transitioned to digital projectors in 2013, the film reels went away. Starlite owner Chuck Bucinski shows how the Starlite plays movies now. (Matt Riedl/The Wichita Eagle)

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