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.
Birmingham News is reporting that Panera also has interest in the parcel (sans drivethrough) without a drivethrough.
Panera with no drive-through would be a vast improvement at least from the vehicular angle. If Panera does indeed step in, wouldn’t it be great if they hired a really good architect to design something thoughtful–instead of the same, recycled generic corporate design “tweaked” to fit the site.
And not to jump to another angle, but would Panera be characterized as “healthier” than Chick-Fil-A, or not necessarily?
I imagine–I hope–that Panera is paying close attention to the debate and will be prepared with a suitable, community-inspired design if Chik-Fil-A moves on. It’s a great opportunity for them to score some positive PR.
I think most people think of Panera as healthier, whether or not they really are. They certainly have plenty of options so that you could conceivably get a healthy meal there. Hold the mayo, of course!
I’ve never eaten at Chik Fil A, but here’s the nutrition information website for panera.
Thanks for posting the nutrition link. Like cbuchanan says, I guess it’s all about “holding the mayo.”
Do the Five Points South Design Guidelines or Five Points South Commercial Revitalization Plans specifically address drive-thrus? I’m pretty sure there’s nothing about them in the City Center Master Plan.
John-yes, this is part of the problem. They are not specifically addressed (and I think they should be–through an amendment). But what is addressed is compatibility with the historic context, pedestrian environment, etc. Based on these more general aspects, the Committee denied the project. While I’m not a lawyer, that seems like a reasonable interpretation.
I just don’t want to have to keep wasting energy interpreting when it comes to items like this. It should be clearly outlined—no drive-throughs.
Where are the various guidelines for our numerous historic districts and commercial revitalization districts available to the public? Would I need to knock on doors at City Hall?
John–as far as I know, yes. You must go to City Hall to obtain the guidelines. God knows they should all be posted online and easily accessible-but we can dream.
There seems to be a great arising of people standing against this development in 5-points, which is great. It’s clearly not a good thing in regards to city and community planning.
I wonder – can Birminghamians band together and join in the fight FOR something in a way that motivates the population and its leadership to act? As a former resident, I hope so.
I was recently encouraged by reading about a park in my neighborhood that was formed after the Mass. state government cleared the way through a historic neighborhood for a highway. Citizens banded together in opposition to the project, and, even though they weren’t able to stop the bulldozers, the corridor was instead turned over to mass transit and walking/bike paths. Now, 20 years later, it’s a well used and well loved park full of life and people.
What is it going to take for Birmingham’s citizens to band together?
Please join me in sending emails of protest to the Atlanta Journal-Constitution. Atlanta is Chik-Fil-A’s home, and the AJC is THE defacto newspaper of the South. If they get wind of a massive uprising against one of their own here, it could help put pressure on Chik-Fil-A.
Send comments about this issue to:
firstname.lastname@example.org (Julia Wallace, Editor)
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