By Katherine Hart, Mid-City Messenger
Plans for the proposed Chick-fil-A restaurant at Tulane and South Carrollton avenues are being revised, in part to make it more pedestrian-friendly and less like a suburban development. The City Planning Commission last week voted to delay its hearing to allow more time for those revisions.
The development needs city approval to move forward. The CPC and, ultimately, the City Council will consider two conditional uses for the site: one for a drive-thru in an area zoned High Intensity Mixed Use and another for a fast-food restaurant in a Historic Urban Corridor Use Restriction Overlay District.
Because it is in the overlay corridor, the project was reviewed by the CPC’s Design Advisory Committee — which called for major changes at its July 16 hearing.
Chick-fil-A’s local land-use attorney, Avery Foret of Sherman Strategies, told the commissioners on July 27 that the developer submitted updated plans to the CPC on July 26. Those plans will go back to the Design Advisory Committee, which had recommended denial.
“What the developer needs to do is reconsider the site plan in a very significant sense,” city planner Stephen Kroll told the commissioners. “We need the building to have more urban footprint, so that means potentially bringing it to the corner, putting parking to the rear.”
The design committee suggested “overall making it read more like a walkable site, as opposed to something that is almost exclusively auto-centric,” Kroll said.
The developer plans to demolish the building at 4068 Tulane Ave., currently a NOLA Chick drive-thru restaurant in a former Burger King. The use isn’t changing — so if the building was retained, Chick-fil-A or any other fast-food operation could take over the site without public input and without city control over parking, traffic or other quality-of-life issues.
The original plan was to retrofit the old Burger King building, Foret told the Design Advisory Committee on July 16. “But it became clear that we could get a more efficient design through a demolition and relocating the building a little further back” she said, “and just allowing more cars to circulate.”
Setting the building further back allows for the “stacking” of cars at the dual-lane drive-thru, developers have said, so customers are waiting to order and pick up food on the property instead of blocking traffic in the busy commercial corridor. At community meetings held in the spring, traffic build-up was a major concern.
The Chick-fil-A in Mid-City will be a drive-thru only restaurant, with a few patio tables and a walk-up window. Patrick Davis, vice president of project development with the Atlanta-based chain, said the site is too small to provide enough parking for a dine-in restaurant.
Davis noted that the design allows for about 50 cars waiting on the site. At the 20-year-old Chick-fil-A in Metairie, he said, cars begin backing up onto Veterans Highway after about 30 are waiting for orders.
He also said that the franchise operator has the flexibility to close off an entrance or exit at any time and that approximately 10 staff members will be outside guiding traffic as well as delivering orders.
Danny McElmurray, a city landscape architect who sits on the Design Advisory Committee, expressed skepticism over that plan. “What you’re telling us assumes that this facility is going to be fully staffed at all times, that your traffic pattern relies on it being fully staffed,” he said, “and that may or may not be the case.”
Committee members also brought up safety concerns with a tight turning radius and with cars not being able to escape the dual drive-thru. Davis said the prototype has been used throughout the country for years with no safety problems.
The pedestrian access to the walk-up window is from Carrollton, convenient to the bus shelter at the corner. Several committee members brought up the lack of access from Tulane Avenue.
Foret said the architect and developers were worried about having people cross over the lanes of cars, so they oriented the pedestrian entrance to Carrollton.
“I can see the concern, though, to add one off of Tulane as well,” she said. “I think we’re just going to have to hit the drawing board on that again.”
McElmurray noted that Chick-fil-A customers walking from Tulane would cross through traffic lanes anyway, so they need a safe designated walkway.
“Think about pedestrians first, and then worry about the people who are parking on the site,” he said. “I think you need to change the perspective, because this is very car-oriented. This has nothing to do with pedestrians — this is like, ‘Pedestrians, go away.'”
The plan shows 19 parking spaces, and only six are required, planner Haley Delery pointed out. The spaces, Davis said, are for third-party delivery services and for people who want to park to use the walk-up window.
One of the requirements of the overlay district in the Comprehensive Zoning Ordinance is that developments “promote safe, convenient and attractive pedestrian and bicycle access,” Delery noted.
She suggested moving the building to the corner and reducing the number of parking spaces. “This doesn’t fit the site very well, but I really do believe there are design changes that you could make,” she said.
In addition, she said, the zoning requires the building to be oriented toward the street and the Chick-fil-A building does not have an entrance facing Tulane.
Committee member Eleanor Burke of the Historic District Landmark Commission brought up the window-to-wall ratio on the building, saying it needed larger windows as well as a door facing Tulane.
“At this point, it just looks very fortress-like,” she said, “and I understand that you aren’t going to have people come into the restaurant, but that doesn’t mean the building needs to look like a cell.”
McElmurray, the landscape architect, also criticized the plant-to-concrete ratio and the absence of street trees on the site design. “I know y’all are looking at this as a site, but we look at Tulane corridor as a whole,” he said. “This is an enhancement corridor, and you know it’s an enhancement corridor. Then where are the enhancements?”
The DAC requested that Chick-fil-A provide a traffic plan and schematic diagrams of alternate building and parking locations. The committee members also gave the developers what Foret called their “marching orders”: a list of suggestions that includes changes to the curb cuts, the setbacks, the building and the canopy, and the parking and stacking plans.
Chick-fil-A’s proposal for Tulane and Carrollton is scheduled to go before the City Planning Commission on Aug. 24.
Katherine Hart is the managing editor of NOLA Messenger. She can be reached at email@example.com.