Restaurant company resubmits site proposal

Chick-Fil-A still has opposition months later

April 15, 1999|By Alice Lukens | Alice Lukens,SUN STAFF

Almost six months after withdrawing their application to build a hotly contested drive-through restaurant in Ellicott City, executives at Chick-Fil-A Inc. have decided to try again.

In October, their efforts to build a drive-through off Executive Park Drive nearly failed after residents complained and the Howard County Board of Appeals deadlocked 2-2 on whether to grant the restaurant company a variance for a trash-bin enclosure.

This time around, restaurant officials are hoping better public relations will solve their problems -- even though their plans remain virtually unchanged.

"It's a different day," said Alex Dominguez, director of real estate for Chick-Fil-A Inc., which is based in Atlanta and has more than 800 restaurants around the country. "It's a different time to present the same issue."

He said he plans to meet with concerned residents April 28. A Board of Appeals hearing on the resubmitted plans is scheduled June 8.

Neighbors who opposed the project in the fall say that no matter how often they meet with Chick-Fil-A officials, they won't want a restaurant virtually across the street from their homes.

"I don't think we need a fast-food restaurant in that area," said James Conner, a member of the Ellicott Park Townhouse Condominium Section Two Association Inc., a group of 56 condominium owners on Lee Farm Court who oppose the restaurant. "It's going to exacerbate an already busy traffic situation."

He and his neighbors, who live off Executive Park Drive across the street from the proposed restaurant, also worry that the drive-through would attract crime and cause their property values to fall.

But Dominguez said neighbors' fears are unfounded.

"Although people think that establishments like us might generate traffic, we don't tend to generate traffic," Dominguez said. "We feed off traffic that's already there."

In October, after a heated debate, Board of Appeals members deadlocked 2-2 on whether to grant a variance for a trash bin.

The fifth board member, George L. Layman, was absent, and because he was running for County Council in the district, there was some debate about whether it would have been a conflict of interest for him to vote to break the tie.

But it became a moot point.

Several days after the meeting, Chick-Fil-A officials announced that they had withdrawn their application.

If the company had received a denial for a variance from the Board of Appeals, it could not have re-submitted a plan for another two years, according to county law. Because company officials withdrew their application, no such time limit applies.

"We were absolutely unaware that there was any concern from the public at all," Dominguez said. "That's not our style, to come in and create a lot of ruckus."

Dominguez said the company needed a variance for a trash container to move it farther from the neighbors. But he said the company is not required to do that.

The company is seeking a special exception for a drive-through, which he said would make up about 50 percent of the restaurant's business. The company has also applied for a variance to build a free-standing sign.

"It's a good company, and it's a clean use and there are a lot of merits," Dominguez said.

But neighbors still don't want it.

Said Conner: "There will be people in and out of there, in and out of there, a lot more noise, a lot more traffic."

Pub Date: 4/15/99

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