The Design Review Committee voted unanimously this morning to deny Chick-Fil-A’s request to place a new restaurant and drive-through at the corner of 20th Street and Highland Avenue South, in the heart of the Five Points South Historic District.
Delivering an impassioned speech about the duty to maintain “the vitality of the whole neighborhood”–and the incompatibility of drive-throughs in this pedestrian-friendly area–Committee member Cheryl Morgan eloquently laid out the reasoning behind the vote.
James Little, president of the Five Points South Merchant Group, spoke of residents’ and merchants’ approving a resolution against this and any other drive-through in the district. He mentioned that other chain outlets known for drive-throughs–Jim-n-Nick’s and Starbucks–are successfully operating in the area in historic urban storefronts with no drive-throughs.
Despite several Chick-Fil-A attorney presentations which revolved around property rights and the fact that zoning does allow drive-throughs in this part of town, in the end the Committee decided that the Downtown Master Plan, Five Points South Design Guidelines, and the Five Points South Commercial Revitalization plan trumped the generic zoning allowance.
With all those lawyers at their disposal, I would be surprised if this is the last we’ve heard from Chick-Fil-A. It’s a real pity they’d want to pursue something so opposed by their neighbors and this community at large.
One final note–Committee member Don Cosper brought up an aspect of this proposal that has been lost amidst all the talk about drive-throughs–the architectural compatibility of the building itself. The representatives of Chick-Fil-A were at a loss to defend what’s essentially a suburban-mall-out-parcel style building. Yes, they’d made some modifications (brick instead of stucco) in the hopes of helping their case. But thoughtful architecture that responds to its context? Far, far from it.
[Thanks to Victor Blackledge, with Planning, Engineering, and Permits, for allowing me to photograph the public proceedings of this Committee]
Real estate sources have confirmed that Panera Bread is the second choice tenant of the property owners, and is poised to present a plan for a new restaurant in this location without a drive-through (if the owners decide not to continue pursuing Chick-Fil-A). You can read the article in the News here.