Waffle House not used to opposition
By Emily Ford
SALISBURY - The Waffle House executive who appeared before Salisbury Planning Board last week said he's not accustomed to resistance to one of his restaurants.
"This is very unusual," said Butch Baur, the company's vice president for real estate. "We don't see opposition."
Baur traveled from Georgia to defend what he said is the company's right to build a new Waffle House at the corner of East Innes and South Shaver streets, the location of a string of unsuccessful fast food joints, most recently Jade Express.
But leaders of the Brooklyn-South Square neighborhood rallied a group of about 40 people who opposed the 24-hour eatery moving into a fragile neighborhood.
The new Waffle House would stand across from Wilco-Hess, a hot spot for criminal activity.
Neighborhood leaders said they oppose Waffle House's round-the-clock hours, not the restaurant itself.
Brooklyn-South Square asked the city to rezone the proposed Waffle House site from commercial to residential mixed use, which would still allow a restaurant but require a special use permit from City Council.
The Waffle House site is part of a larger request to rezone 35 parcels. A Planning Board committee is scheduled to discuss the rezoning this morning.
Baur said Waffle House would be a good neighbor, create jobs and bring stability to the neighborhood.
"We know what we're getting into," he said.
The planned 1,875-square-foot restaurant and adjacent parking - a total of three parcels owned by Nash Management - would have to meet architectural and construction standards of the Eastern Gateway Overlay District, said Trey Cleaton, a city planner and project manager for the Waffle House development.
Police Chief Rory Collins declined to comment on a 24-hour restaurant moving into Brooklyn-South Square and across from Park Avenue, another at-risk neighborhood. Several fast food drive-throughs in the area are open until 3 or 4 a.m.
Calls for service at Wilco-Hess have decreased in the past three years.
Police responded to Wilco-Hess on average nearly once a day from October 2009 to October 2010 - 346 times.
That number fell to 244 calls the following year, and then 173 calls in the past 12 months - a 50-percent reduction from two years ago.
In the 100 and 200 blocks of North Shaver Street, which is adjacent to the Wilco-Hess, calls for service fell from 123 in 2011 to 81 in 2012.
While "it is clear to see an improvement in the quality-of-life conditions from those experienced over the past couple of years, I remain unsatisfied," Collins said in an email.
Combined, the Wilco-Hess property and street adjacent have generated 254 calls for service in the past year.
"This is because we continue to have problems in this particular area," Collins said.
Collins has met repeatedly with Wilco-Hess President Steve Williams. He said Williams is cooperating and last month began hiring police officers to provide security on the weekends with good results.
While Wilco-Hess continues to sell alcohol until 2 a.m., Collins said he remains hopeful that Williams will end alcohol sales at an earlier hour.
Collins credits aggressive patrols by the new Street Crimes Unit for the improved conditions. He said he's also worked closely with both Brooklyn-South Square and Park Avenue neighborhoods to deal with criminal activity and public safety concerns.
Not all residents of Brooklyn-South Square oppose Waffle House.
Clyde, who lives in the neighborhood and only uses one name, said neighborhood leaders have cherry picked the lots they want rezoned.
"You can't spot zone to keep somebody out," Clyde told the Planning Board last week.
For clarification, Preston Mitchell, the city's Planning and Development Services manager, said the board can avoid spot zoning by remaining consistent with the city's 2020 Vision Plan.
Mitchell recommended removing the Waffle House parcels from the neighborhood's overall rezoning request.
The Planning Board will make a recommendation to City Council, although the council has the right to take up the issue at will.
If the Waffle House obtains local zoning and construction permits before the city decides on the rezoning issue, the neighborhood's request is moot and the restaurant will be grandfathered.
Numerous property owners, developers and others spoke against the third-party rezoning request, calling it an ambush and complaining they had little time to prepare a defense.
Contact reporter Emily Ford at 704-797-4264.