Tag Archives: drive through

Design Review Alert

It’s historic too

Tomorrow morning at Design Review Committee, the conceptual design for the proposed Walgreens drugstore on Clairmont Avenue South will be presented. The most recent plan, informally shown to neighbors and community stakeholders, was discussed in a previous post here.

The meeting will be at 7:30 AM, Young and Vann building, 1731 First Avenue North, 3rd Floor.

This proposal is important because it accommodates the historic Fire Station No. 22, while demolishing several structures in-between the Fire Station and the mid-century modern office of Henry Sprott Long Architects (in continuous operation at this location for about 50 years), shown in the photo above. The drugstore’s relationship to both historic buildings, its new parking lot and drive-through, and its formal character along Clairmont should be discussed in the morning.

The public is invited to attend.

Chick-Fil-A: we’re back!

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]

Chick-Fil-A Denied

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.

Mike Calvert helps make the case for denial

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.

Stay tuned.

[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.

Design Review Alert

For those who are interested and able, the City’s Design Review Committee meets tomorrow (Wednesday April 14) at 7:30 AM at the Third Floor of the Center for Regional Planning and Design, 1731 First Avenue North.

On the agenda are the Five Points South Chick-Fil-A site plan, addition to the School of the Fine Arts, and other, mainly smaller items. These meetings are nominally open to the public, although there is not really any time allotted for public comment. And, the Committee is bound to follow City regulations: if a drive-through is allowed, as much as the Committee, the public, or anyone else may disagree–until the City changes this regulation, the DRC is relatively impotent to stop it (they can delay if they have reason to believe the regulation is ambiguous, etc).

It’s an imperfect setting, but a allows a small window into some of the things being proposed around the city proper. I will plan on being there myself and will report back on anything interesting that transpires. Until then, I’ll leave you with a snapshot I took the other day showing the Cityville Block 121 apartments well underway on 20th Street South across Second Avenue South, where an old, Spanish-style stucco former service station still stands.

Old greeting the new

Suburban = Urban?

could it get worse?

Ah, the demise of the infamous Ruby Tuesday restaurant in the heart of Five Points South. Infamous because a banal, cookie-cutter shopping-mall out-parcel building was plopped down 16 years ago on one of the most historic and important corners in this city–where 20th Street meets Highland Avenue South. There had been a plan in the early 1990s to redevelop this lot (originally a fine mansion) as a 14 story, mixed-use building called Renaissance Plaza. Instead we got a cheap looking, generic box sitting on a parking lot.

Well, lo and behold, the restaurant has closed after 16 years. And last week’s Design Review Committee approved a new development with nary a comment or dissent. Is it a dense, mixed-use development bringing interesting new retail and restaurant tenants? Is it thoughtful, urban architecture suitable to this distinctive corner surrounded by the Shepherd-Sloss Building, Terrace Court Apartments? Unfortunately it is neither. It is a stand-alone Chick-Fil-A restaurant, complete with drive-through and surface parking. This plan sketched here is very approximate, but gets the idea across.

presenting for Chick-Fil-A

I don’t want to say Chick-Fil-A shouldn’t be in Five Points– but can we talk context?  Gorgeous terra cotta detailing and the first high-rise apartments in the South across the street.  Crumbling, perhaps, but at least special.

unique across the street

These older buildings speak of a particular place and style — “I am in Birmingham”, not at any newish strip mall.  The unique architectural fabric of this city is what make visitors say: what a beautiful town you have. Hard to say that about  most strip malls/outparcels since they all look alike. But I digress; this is not a commentary on the architectural integrity of the American strip mall. That’s another post.

But Five Points! An area that is a food mecca for the metro area…  I am not against fast food in the least — or a good Chick-Fil-A.  But where is the comprehensive plan for revitalizing this area? Let me dust off some shelves somewhere, because this can’t be part of it.  Why? Kudos on the outdoor seating — but that’s about all I can say positive about the current plan. Take a look at Portland.  As we’ve discussed before, urban areas succeed with density.  In Portland you see sidewalks lined with shops and restaurants, including a McDonald’s storefront. No drive-throughs. And 90% of the property is not a vast dead zone of car park and drive-through lanes.

fast-food, urban-style in Portland

One reason why this sort of totally inappropriate development still happens here? We have no Redevelopment Authority. A RA is an independent, public agency that can buy and sell property, solicit proposals from developers, and finance buildings and development. They can take a good plan and actually implement it. This site would be a prime example of the kind of place identified by a RA as important to a city and the urban environment. It deserves to be built out according to a good plan. Not just randomly selected by Chick-Fil-A. And their drive-through mentality.

Drive-throughs, while ubiquitous to the American landscape, are not appropriate in dense urban areas. They require additional curb cuts which make pedestrian sidewalk use hazardous; they are horrible for the environment (all those motors idling); they discourage people from getting out of their car and enjoying a walkable streetscape; and the land use is wasteful (lots of asphalt). Various cities have started banning new, urban drive-throughs for all of these reasons.

I want a thriving Five Points.  I want the opposite of a strip mall — non-chain boutiques, restaurants that use local produce, new loft mid-rises — a snobby, creative-class dream?  OK then. I will also take some chains and fast-food that may be necessary  — but with the caveat that they should fit in with a comprehensive, urban vision for this area. I want more more more. I know, I want too much.  But I can dream, right? (thanks to dystopos for the Ruby Tuesday pic; Birmingham Public Library for the 1972 pic of the Shepherd-Sloss building, and alexabboud for the pic in Portland.)