Zaxby’s debate still undecided after zoning request withdrawn

Published 12:00 am Wednesday, April 22, 2015

A rezoning request that would allow a hotly contested drive-thru restaurant to be built was withdrawn before City Council could vote against it Tuesday.

John and Joan Leatherman withdrew their request to rezone property they own on Jake Alexander Boulevard that, if approved, would clear the way for a Zaxby’s restaurant to be built. Withdrawing the petition instead of letting council vote against it means the Leathermans avoid having a one-year waiting period before they can bring the request to the city again.

After an hours-long public hearing, it was clear all of the council members were against granting the request in its current form. Council, at the urging of Mayor Paul Woodson, asked the Leathermans to withdraw the request and then encouraged people on both sides of the issue to work toward a compromise.

The site in question is between two sets of office buildings at the traffic signal at Castlewood Drive. The land is currently zoned residential mixed use and needed to be rezoned to highway business to allow for a drive-thru restaurant. The owner of Zaxby’s on Faith Road, Gina Dickens, wants to build a second location in the city.

The Leathermans used to own much of the land in the area before selling it to developers over the years.

The rezoning request has been contested by residents and business owners in the area since it first came to the city’s Planning Board last August. Concerns over traffic congestion and safety are the top reasons people oppose the plans, but they also don’t think a drive-thru restaurant, of any kind, in the middle of two office complexes makes sense.

The Planning Board has twice voted against the rezoning.

More than 30 people spoke, either for or against, the rezoning during the public hearing. And the room was filled with people who came to hear the debate and council’s decision.

Possibly the most compelling argument against the rezoning came from Dr. Samuel Roy, whose office is in the Pinnacle Office Complex south of the site. Access to any drive-thru restaurant built there would share the same road as the one to his office complex.

The complex already faces traffic problems because cars can only go one way, he said, and he told council further traffic issues caused by a drive-thru restaurant could lead to someone’s death.

Roy, who does plastic and oral surgery, said he occasionally has to call an ambulance to come to his office to assist a patient, and that any excess vehicles from the drive-thru could end up holding up the ambulance — wasting precious time that could cost someone his or her life.

“It’s not safe,” Roy said about putting in a restaurant, adding there needs to be another road access to the complex.

Woodson later said safety concerns were the major reason why he couldn’t vote to approve the rezoning. He said something needs to be done about road access to the office complex with Roy’s practice in it before he will change his mind.

Other’s who spoke in opposition during the hearing said a drive-thru restaurant at the proposed location will lead to more car accidents on Jake Alexander Boulevard — speeding drivers smashing into backed-up traffic.

There is a traffic light at Castlewood Drive and Jake Alexander Boulevard. Drivers would have to turn off of Jake Alexander Boulevard and then make another left into the restaurant’s parking lot.

The driveway that runs behind the offices is also a point of contention. Property owners in the complex say the drive is not meant to handle regular traffic and that building the restaurant would result in them having their right of way blocked by cars going to and from the restaurant.

Maintenance of the driveway, and who has to pay for it, is another divisive issue.

Alan Burke, an accountant whose office is adjacent to the site, submitted a protest petition against the rezoning request. Since he owns property within 100 feet of the subject area, he can issue the protest — which meant council had to vote unanimously or 4-1 in approval of the rezoning for it to be allowed. A 3-2 vote is not enough.

People who spoke in favor of a drive-thru restaurant at the site pointed to the fact that it will bring more jobs and tax revenue to the city. Several people said council would be setting a bad example for other potential businesses if they voted against the rezoning.

When John Leatherman addressed council, he read from a prepared statement that addressed the benefits of building the Zaxby’s. He said the area was never intended to be just offices, referencing the Taco Bell and Pizza Hut to the north.

“This property was designed as a development of individual lots with the intent of not having conforming construction,” he said.

Joan said they want to enhance business in the city. “We think it’s good for everyone,” she said about their plans.

John and the project designer stressed that they have made concessions and changes to the site plan in an effort to alleviate some the the opposition’s, and Planning Board’s, concerns.

Some people who were in favor of the request spoke highly about Dickens and her current restaurant. A petition she had at her current location was signed by nearly 1,000 people who supported another Zaxby’s in Salisbury.

There were several petitions, for and against the rezoning, presented to council during the public hearing.

While council members were discussing the issue, it quickly became clear they would all vote against it with council members Maggie Blackwell, Pete Kennedy and Woodson in direct opposition.

Blackwell said she is pro business, and that in this case she is siding with the businesses and residents already in the area.

Kennedy said he would vote “no” after listening to all the people who spoke in opposition.

Council members Brian Miller and Karen Alexander were more in the middle on how they felt. Miller said he thinks any existing traffic problems in the area will not be made worse by adding the drive-thru restaurant. But, he said he can’t vote in favor of the request until he sees some compromise. Alexander said she still has unanswered questions and wants to see engagement from both sides to find a solution.

She made a motion to send the issue to a committee, but it was voted down by Woodson, Kennedy and Blackwell.

In the end, it was Woodson who initially asked if the Leathermans wanted to withdraw their request, and after a brief discussion with their lawyer, they did.

Contact Reporter David Purtell at 704-797-4264.