Still trying to make a suburban model urban
I found out at very late notice that a subcommittee of the Design Review Committee was meeting today at City Hall in a working session with representatives of Chick-Fil-A, to discuss a revised proposal for the prominent site at the corner of Highland Avenue and 20th Street South in the heart of Five Points South. As many already know, their previous proposal has been denied twice: once by Design Review, and once by the Appeals Board just a couple weeks ago.
So it was with great interest that I hurried to the meeting to observe the proceedings.
First, subcommittee chairman Richard Mauk laid out the guidelines–that the subcommittee expected Chick-Fil-A to respond to each of the points laid out by the Appeals Board. The implication was: if you don’t address each point, then you don’t have much chance of success with a new presentation.
Chick-Fil-A started their presentation, once again using a site plan showing no surrounding buildings or other neighborhood context. This is Presentation 101, especially when you’ve just been raked over the coals for not being sensitive to the neighborhood. Besides the lack of context, the site plan was most notable for still containing a drive-through, and for still containing the same basic proportion of building mass to open parking (2 of the main concerns of both previous “No” votes).
While the Chick-Fil-A in-house engineer was attempting to explain the plan, committee member Don Cosper asked why the location needed so many parking spaces when only 21 are required by code [almost every surrounding business has a variance on parking and very few have on-site parking at all]. The answer from the Chick-Fil-A traffic engineer was, “we just have a large site so we are filling it with more parking than we are required.”
What ensued was a somewhat circular discussion, with Design Review members Mauk, Cosper, Cheryl Morgan, and Mark Fugnitto continually reminding Chick-Fil-A about the importance of neighborhood, pedestrians, and context, and Chick-Fil-A appearing a bit caught off -guard (again, despite the appeal process they’ve just been through). The company has now hired an outside design consultant (architect Bill Allswell–I’m afraid I’m not spelling his name correctly). This architect also presented two proposed exterior elevations, one which he admitted was “more suburban” and one which was “more contextual”. Neither was aesthetically very pleasing, though each tried to extend the mass of the actual building with some false screen walls.
Morgan was especially adamant that false screen walls do not substitute for active storefronts engaging pedestrian life in an urban area. She summed it up by saying that CFA still has a very suburban plan, and they need to return with something new, at which point the “working committee” would meet with them again.
All in all, a somewhat bizarre meeting: with all the resources CFA has, and all they’ve been through, you would think they would have a more sophisticated visual presentation, and one that truly addressed the points in the Appeal Board denial. Instead it was 95% more of the same.
I will try to alert everyone to the time of the next working session, assuming it’s open to the public again.
Finally, looming in the background but mainly unspoken today: the drive-through. Still in the plan. Which is bewildering.
FOOTNOTE: out of courtesy to the designers presenting, I’m unable to show any of their draft renderings on this blog.
[thanks to link576 for the Chick-Fil-A bags]