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Chick-fil-A kerfuffle sparks zoning change

November 20, 2018

STAMFORD — If you want to build a drive-through fast food joint in this city, you no longer have a shot at Bull’s Head — or any other parcel that isn’t zoned for industrial or manufacturing uses.

The Zoning Board this week approved sweeping changes to the zoning code’s handling of drive-throughs. The edits, crafted by Land Use Bureau Chief Ralph Blessing and Associate Planner Vineeta Mathur, prohibit the traffic-inducing lanes in nearly all city zones and adds a layer of oversight to plans for the lanes in industrial parcels where drive-throughs are allowed.

“Those are areas where we don’t think there will be issues between pedestrians and traffic,” Mathur said.

This comes after a lengthy spat over plans for a new Chick-fil-A along Cold Spring Road in Bull’s Head. The plans were withdrawn after backlash from neighbors, city staffers and even Mayor David Martin.

Chick-fil-A representatives, who earlier this year pitched the Zoning Board with dreamy descriptions of hand-spun milkshakes and what the city deemed whimsical views of vanishing traffic, now have an imposing uphill battle if they want to come to the city with “chicken that’s served by angels with leprechauns on unicorns,” as one resident chided in May.

“We listened,” Blessing said.

The change carves out an exception for property owners proposing a drive-through for pharmacies or banks.

Those businesses would be allowed to propose a drive through in some commercial zones around homes — Bull’s Head’s “neighborhood business” zone included — but calls for another layer of oversight through special exceptions granted by city boards.

“Our thinking was we wanted to be more restrictive and see where it goes,” Blessing said.

The new text also calls for approvals from the Transportation Bureau and its chief, Jim Travers, who took the lead in voicing traffic concerns over Chick-fil-A even after the southern chain pushed for a traffic consultant to essentially appeal his stance.

The change defines drive-throughs, which was not previously included in the zoning code. For decades, the board leaned on “restaurant drive-ins” as a stand-in with varying degrees of success. Zoning Board members at their Monday meeting pointed out some poorly planned drive-throughs that had been approved in the past.

The board also deleted another zone, the so-called Central City District South, which forbid residential uses for three Tresser Boulevard properties.

A new Zoning chairman was also selected on Monday. Democrat David Stein, who has been acting chairman of the Zoning Board since the death of longtime chairman Thomas Mills, was unanimously selected to the role.

barry.lytton@stamfordadvocate.com; 203-964-2263; @bglytton

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