What came first, the chicken or the Plan?

The Plan in question is Dunwoody’s Comprehensive Land Use Plan. The Comprehensive Land Use Plan is the written document to be used as the guideline for development in areas around the city, including the land parcels at the Dunwoody Club / Mount Vernon intersection. The chicken in question is Chick-fil-A, the popular fast food restaurant.

There is a major decision to be made by Dunwoody City Council in the upcoming weeks. Should Dunwoody City Council vote to approve new zoning for a piece of property at the intersection of Dunwoody Club Drive and Mount Vernon to allow for a fast food restaurant with double drive-through lanes?

Chick-fil-A will present its case first to the Dunwoody Homeowners Association, then formally request a zoning change from the city. Currently the property is zoned NS, which designates “Neighborhood Shopping.” NS zoning does allow for a restaurant, but not a drive-through. Aside from a mall location, I’ve never seen a Chick-fil-A without a drive-through lane, and I doubt Chick-fil-A would pursue the parcel without approval of a drive-through.

For a fast food business with a drive-through to be built on the piece of land that formerly was home to a Blockbuster store, the land needs rezoned to C1. C1 designates “commercial, low density use.” Once a parcel is rezoned to C1, it will remain C1, even if a Chick-fil-A were to close or relocate. Once zoned C1, the land owner does not have to keep the lot as a restaurant. Just so residents are aware, C1 zoning also allows for used-car lots.

Dunwoody’s Future

Rezoning land is not something to take lightly. For years, folks here in Dunwoody criticized DeKalb County officials for allowing rezoning of property. That issue (rezoning of property) was one of the driving forces to create our own city. Will our city council, just two years removed from DeKalb zoning complaints, follow in DeKalb County footsteps and rezone property at the request of a corporation?

But this up-or-down vote on rezoning for a 4,200-square-foot restaurant is more than meets the eye.

For more than a year, Dunwoody residents, city staff, City Council and professional planners developed Dunwoody’s Comprehensive Land Use Plan (CLUP). This plan, required by the State of Georgia for cities, was submitted to the Atlanta Regional Commission in June of this year.

According to our city’s website, the CLUP “will shape the city of Dunwoody’s future for years to come and guide decision-makers in managing future growth.” The question is, does a fast food restaurant (regardless of it being the well-respected Chick-fil-A or alternatively a Krystal or Checkers) fit what the CLUP calls for in the area referred to as the Jett Ferry gateway?

In regard to future development for this area referred to as the Jett Ferry gateway, what the CLUP calls for — big surprise — is not a fast food drive-through restaurant. Here is the Vision/Intent for this area, as stated in the plan: Neighborhood-scale commercial node focused on providing a unique destination for surrounding residents, creating a pedestrian- and bicycle-friendly environment through multi-use paths, streetscape, and well-designed parking areas and vehicular access. Cohesive architectural design and streetscaping will define gateways into the city of Dunwoody. A unifying design feature, such as way-finding signage or city marker, will link the gateway with the rest of the city.

The plan also lists goals for the land use and economic development in this area. These goals include to “establish gateway with features that define ‘arrival’ to city of Dunwoody” and to “re-orient site layout to reduce surface parking and create public plaza.” The plans Chick-fil-A presented to a group of citizens recently did not meet these goals.

Traffic worries

Aside from the obvious issues of a fast food drive-through not meeting the goals of the city’s CLUP, council also needs to consider traffic concerns for this area.

The Chick-fil-A plan calls for a dual drive-through lane, with these cars emptying onto Dunwoody Club Drive. This section of road now is two-lane only and congested at times. Cars cut through (illegally) this piece of land already, headed to the Kroger supermarket, making driving conditions dangerous.

This same site has had controversial plans before. You’ll recall Goodwill Industries faced strong opposition to opening a new store in the former Ace Hardware building. Some said it did not fit “our” image (a new Goodwill did open at Perimeter in Sandy Springs). It is hard to believe local residents now support a fast food restaurant for this same plaza.

I enjoy the food at Chick-fil-A, and I understand that in the short term, a new shiny restaurant (even with a drive-through) may be more desirable to local homeowners than an empty Blockbuster. But long-term, I don’t think a drive-through fast food restaurant meets the goals of the CLUP.

Will the City Council honor what is stated in the Comprehensive Land Use Plan, or will the council disregard it? Zoning maps are blind as to the end-user, in this case, eaters of chicken sandwiches. The city should not make a zoning change based on the fine reputation of Chick-fil-A, but rather on the long-term goals of smart development.

Dunwoody resident Rick Callihan is our local columnist for the Dunwoody Reporter. You can find his blog at http://www.dunwoodytalk.blogspot.com