Monday, December 13, 2010

An Opinion on Chick-fil-A

The opinion below is from longtime Dunwoody resident and zoning expert Bob Lundsten.  Bob posted this as a 'comment' on this blog, but I respect Bob's opinion enough to repost it here.
While I do respect Bob's opinion, I believe we need to explore all possibilities before putting the kibosh on Chick-fil-A.  We need to think outside the box.  If a Chick-fil-A is what the community wants, all avenues must be explored.  There must be a way without compromising zoning or the Comprehensive Land Use Plan.

Bob Lundsten (left)
Fran is a friend of mine, a great State Rep, and will be a tremendous State Senator. However, I disagree with him regarding the rezoning of commercial property for a drive-thru restaurant (as stated in his opinion column in last week’s Crier) in Dunwoody.

First and foremost, this issue is NOT about Chick Fil A. It IS about rezoning for a fast food drive-thru restaurant. I concede that CFA is a great corporate citizen. They are closed on Sundays and who doesn’t like their sandwiches? But none of these are LEGAL reasons to rezone a property. You do not rezone your city based on popular opinion of an end user.
Secondly, the claim is that the shopping strip is dying, vacancies are everywhere. Well as compelling as that sounds, it is not really true. Two new businesses have opened in the last couple of weeks and the consignment store is doing well and has just expanded. The vacancy of the old ACE site is by fault of the community as they “rallied” to stop Goodwill from leasing the entire space. Goodwill, a permitted user, chose to open instead in Sandy Springs and opened a second store in Johns Creek. With all the years I have been involved with development, I have never seen or even heard of a situation that a fast-food restaurant plays the role of redevelopment king. Does anyone honestly believe that if they were to open, the 30,000 square feet of empty space next door becomes A list property? The reason the strip looks so bad is the owner has not spent a penny in keeping it up. Chick Fil A will not change that.
The idea that the rezoning will not increase traffic is also absurd. Not even mentioning the fact that in the application to rezone CFA mentions a significant increase in car trips, no one wants to address the increased stops and turns that a fast-food place by design creates. I have heard that patrons have five ways to exit the center. When the site was a Blockbuster, driving around that lot was dangerous and EVERYONE will tend to use the exit directly across from Kroger.
Finally, while dismissed by some as a mere annoyance or inconvenience, the newly adopted Comprehensive Land Use Plan does have a huge role in what the future of Dunwoody will be. In the case of this property, no where does it encourage or recommend drive thru restaurants. In fact, if you actually read the plan and read the sections regarding this gateway, you will see that everything that is written is exactly opposite of what this applicant is requesting. Tell me how the proposed Chick Fil A is pedestrian and bicycle friendly. Tell me how they promote “community”. Tell me how they are a unique destination. Tell me this is the first thing you want people to see as they come into our city from the east.
You cannot rezone for a user. You cannot condition a zoning for a specific user. The proposed plan put forth by Chick Fil A does not have enough parking per the city code. It will cause additional traffic at an intersection that is already bad and will be even worse once the Ace site is leased.
This case will be litmus test for our council. Are we all talk about making things better or will we walk the walk towards a better Dunwoody?

14 comments:

DunwoodyTalk said...

'outside the box' would be a Chick Fil A with no drive-thru or a CFA with drive-thru elsewhere in Dunwoody. Any way you look at it a drive-thru will not come close to the CLUP.

dunwoodyfamous said...

Sorry guys, but the CLUP doesn't mention drive-throughs at all. So when Bob says the CLUP doesn't encourage drive-throughs, it similarly doesn't discourage drive-throughs. It is silent in that regard. One person's interpretation of the silence is not another's.

Also, the CLUP seeks bike and pedestrian friendly, but that's a designation for the surrounding streets and is not controlled by a tenant in the shopping center.

Bob Fiscella said...

Famous,
Thanks for the comment. I'll be brutally honest - I have not read the entire CLUP, or even most of it.

Pattie Baker said...

Bob; Many cities give their comp plans a more creative name (like "Imagine Durban: What Do You See When You Dream? www.imaginedurban.org) which makes it a more inviting read, but I think once you start reading the Dunwoody plan, it will be hard to put down.

In case you find it helpful, I wrote a lot about the whole comp plan process, with links, photos, and more, during the year in which I served on the comp plan steering committee: http://www.sustainablepattie.com/search/label/Comprehensive%20Plan

Bob Lundsten said...

I ask you Famous Farmhouser once again. Go Public stop hiding. If you want to have a discussion that is anywhere near credible, then step forward and lets hear it from a name and a face.
When three sections of the CLUP plan talk about pedestrian friendly street scapes accessability, this plan offers NONE of that.
NO one has addressed, including Chick Fil A that they do not satisfy the minimum parking requirements.
By law each zoning site MUST be able to satisfy its parking requirement on site. That is not interpretation, but the law. They have 19 and need 57.
Then again it is a drive through so maybe they dont need all that parking.

Bob Fiscella said...

Thanks Pattie!

Chip said...

Farmer Bob is on the right track with all his remarks. FamousFarmhouser misconstrues the CLUP as the basis of Farmer
Bob's argument. Even if we throw away the CLUP, the zoning problem remains...the NS designation does NOT allow a drive-thru, and moving to C1 for the drive thru does seem to be against the best interests of the neighborhood and the usage of the shopping center.

The current application by CFA doesn't even meet the minimum requirements of the C1 zoning, as Farmer Bob points out, so we have the double-problem of rezoning and then establishing a huge precedence for variance to accomodate.

Farmer Bob is right on both of these points, and NO ONE has successfully challenged his position on these matters. Bill
Robinson tried to offer a covenant agreement to create a pseudo-C1 classification, but that's just another extreme attempt to force this item onto a site where it does not belong.

As DunwoodyTalk points out, the CFA without the drive thru would be acceptable, primarily because they'd have the parking they require. (Possibly)

With the drive-thru, the plan just doesn't meet the minimum qualifications of "best use" for this site.

FamousFarmhouser....refute the above points, if you can.

Chip

dunwoodyfamous said...

Chip,

It never hurts to go back and re-read the posts.

Lundsten’s comment on the drive-through was, in part, based on the CLUP in his own words. Specifically Bob said, “…the newly adopted Comprehensive Land Use Plan does have a huge role in what the future of Dunwoody will be. In the case of this property, no where does it encourage or recommend drive thru restaurants.”

Likewise, Dunwoody Talk then specifically adds, “Any way you look at it a drive-thru will not come close to the CLUP.”

Both of these guys are tying the drive-through to the CLUP and that the CLUP doesn’t support drive-throughs. However, the CLUP doesn’t mention drive-throughs anywhere in the document. For Bob and Rick or others to blog that the drive-through is not according to CLUP or not encouraged by CLUP, I make the point that the CLUP likewise doesn’t discourage drive-throughs.

Anyone tying the drive-through issue to the CLUP is making his or her own “interpretation” of what the broad, high-level CLUP language suggests, as a drive-through is not specific, factual language anywhere in the CLUP.

In my opinion, a drive-through (whether Chick-Fila or any other business) is not in conflict with the CLUP. But this, too, is interpretation, just as it was for Bob and Dunwoody Talk.

However, a drive-through is in conflict with the NS zoning classification as a restaurant drive-through is specifically listed as not permitted in NS.

Chip said...

DunwoodyFamous:

I admit that Farmer Bob hangs too much on the CLUP, but that's understandable, since the CLUP is written for a general audience. Zoning regulations are a bit more tedious and specific.

Nonetheless, there is a substantive objection to the CFA drive-thru based solely on zoning requirements, even without the CLUP.

In my opinion, the zoning change and the variances required to even meet the new classification speak strongly AGAINST this applicant.

Sorry.

Chip

Bob Lundsten said...

Chip,
You have to understand what the CLUP is. It is the frame work from which all planning and future zoning begin. It is why it is required by the State and the ARC.
Ours is clear, as to what the area is suppose to be.
In this case the zoning is already in place at NS to reach the goals and objctives of the CLUP.
Farmerhouser has no idea what the process is and why it is set up the way it is. He should know better. Only a few people refer to me as LUNDSTEN.
We have been fighting higher density and intense use in the residential half of Dunwoody for more than 40 years. I am surprised that Farmhouser would be looking at ways to bring this intensity to this area of Dunwoody.
Call me a cynic , but I think this is political pay back to the gentleman who owns the Center. Twice now I have heard of calls made by his office telling people I know, to tell me to back off.
Now I read in the Crier that Chick Fil A is goingto make a presentation at the DHA annual meeting to represent their case. In 25 years we have never had a zoning application heard at a DHA Annual Meeting. Maybe famous Farmhouser is using his influence to give them a second bite at the able.

Chip said...

Farmer Bob:

You know I'm on your side, here, right? Just checking!

I sent a note to The Crier after the Fran Millar opinion column was published, but it never saw the light of day on The Crier blog.

In that note, I chided our State Senator-elect about worrying about Mt. Vernon Pointe where all the problems can be traced to the owner...and not getting on the issue of the old Peachford Hospital and office areas along N. Shallowford Road. If the Senator-elect wants to talk about jobs and improving the economy of Dunwoody, that's the only other serious business/office corridor outside the PCID we have and it's the area that, in my opinion, needs the most help in getting productive businesses and tenants into it.

What are your thoughts about that area? I've never heard it even mentioned in the City of Dunwoody CLUP or from the Office of Economic Development of Dunwoody.

Chip

Atlantan99 said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Atlantan99 said...

I don't live in the area but have grown up on CFA and think it would be a good addition to the area. While I understand the traffic concerns, I think CFA's drive-thru efficiency will make it a non-issue. Please see my blog post for my take on the issue...

http://ht.ly/3uCB2

Chip said...

Atlantan99:

Everyone assumes that cars in the parking lot will sort themselves out, because CFA has provided a whole bunch of queue length.

The real problem is the turn-in, turn-out traffic that this will generate at key times during the traffic rush hours. The back-ups along Mt.Vernon Road (wholly outside the scope of CFA's responsibility) will be traumatic.

The City of Dunwoody certainly isn't going to spend $500K to revamp the intersection to make this go any easier, nor is CFA going to pony-up a goodwill road improvement "package" to make it more tenable.

By the way, CFA is being a little disingenuous with their claim that lunch and dinner will be the peak times....first of all there are no concentrations of office or manufacturing areas that this location would serve, so lunch-time traffic will be locals or service-workers in the area. CFA downplays breakfast, but that's a big deal (at least over at Perimeter Pointe) and dinner, too. Making left turns from east-bound Mt.Vernon into the CFA will back traffic up past Tilly Mill (which it approaches many times, anyway, during the evening rush hour.)

On top of that, the parcel doesn't meet the minimum zoning requirements for C1 even if it were to prevail in its request for rezoning. The owner would have to realign the parcels and thus run into zoning problems with his other property classifications.

Everyone (most everyone) would love to have a CFA in the area....it's the drive-thru that wrecks the deal.

The shopping center is vacant because it's in the landlord's best interest to keep it so, not because there aren't opportunities out there. Why not start writing Mark Burkhalter and asking him when he's going to "step-up" and do something for the neighborhood??

Then, you'd see what the real issues are.

Chip