Update (11 a.m. 2/25/2016): Chick-fil-A’s application has been pulled from the Public Space Committee’s agenda. It’s to be considered at the March 24th meeting.
(12:30 p.m. 2/25/2016): Chick-fil-A itself pulled the application.
ANC 3F voted unanimously to oppose Chick-fil-A’s application for permits for the reconstruction of the Burger King site due to the chain’s drive-thru plans, and will reiterate its opposition in testimony before DDOT’s Public Space Committee today. (Download the resolution from ANC3F.com)
The vote, late Tuesday night, was against a throwback to suburbia where cars rule and drive-thru fast food establishments proliferate, and for a Van Ness that is walkable and urban.
Consultants from Gorove/Slade and Bohler Engineering represented Chick-fil-A at the February 23rd meeting. They said this location will serve as many as 100 cars per hour during it’s projected busiest period – Saturday at midday. Burger King’s drive-thru saw less than half that traffic during a recent Saturday count by Gorove/Slade from 2 to 3 p.m. The study also projects significant increases in weekday lunch and dinner traffic. (Download the traffic study here.)
The plan they presented to ANC 3F focuses on preventing that traffic from backing up on Connecticut Avenue. It relies on sending employees out to take orders on tablet computers when the drive-thru lane backs up. Employees also be expected to juggle cash and credit cards, bring out bags of food, and tell drivers to move on when queuing lane is full. This plan depends on overflow cars being able to park in the back parking lot, and assumes all parking spaces are available.
The Chick-fil-A presentation starts at 1:54:00.
The commissioners questioned them closely on this point since employees and eat-in customers would be parking there, as well. But even if such a plan works, and the commissioners were skeptical about this, Chick-fil-A would still be moving as many as 100 cars per hour through the drive-thru. This means a car would cross the sidewalk every 15 to 20 seconds, according to Steve Gresham, a member of the ANC’s technical support committee. ANC 3F created this committee to help it wade through the mountain of information Chick-fil-A had provided, much of it dumped on them at the last minute.
Another committee member, Dipa Mehta, brought up the issue of cars waiting to enter the drive-thru from Connecticut Avenue – not because of an excess of drive-thru traffic, but because of the many pedestrians passing by the location, especially during rush hours.
Barbara Cline, a resident who lives nearby and often walks past the Burger King, wondered if Chick-fil-A’s planners had considered pedestrians at all.
“I have heard a lot about the traffic plan for cars, what about pedestrians? Is there a plan for pedestrians?” she asked.
The response from the consultants was no.
“Pedestrians count, too,” Cline replied.
Another member of the audience asked if Chick-fil-A would consider opening for business without a drive-thru. Again, the answer was no.
This ANC is not opposed to development. During discussion after the Chick-fil-A presentation, ANC 3F Chair Malachy Nugent pointed to Park Van Ness across the street as an example of development that the ANC supports. BF Saul’s Van Ness Square had been a model of suburban design, with its ground-level parking lot and retail set back from the street. The Park Van Ness apartments going up in its place eschews Saul’s suburban past.
ANC 3F made it clear that it wholeheartedly supports businesses and development that recognizes and moves Van Ness forward to such an urban vision supported by the Office of Planning in its Van Ness Commercial Strategic Action Plan.
And just prior to the Chick-fil-A vote, ANC 3F voted unanimously to approve the Sidwell Friends expansion plans. Sidwell is purchasing the Washington Home and constructing a new lower school on its site. Moving the lower school from Bethesda to this site will increase traffic in the already congested area of 37th, Upton and Tilden Streets and Wisconsin Avenue. But Sidwell worked directly with the school’s neighbors, including Hearst Elementary across 37th, to come up with a transportation plan, and many neighbors came out to urge the commission to approve the plan they had worked so hard to craft.
Commissioner Mary Beth Ray held up this agreement to Chick-fil-A as one with “real teeth.” Sidwell could not expand student enrollment if it did not meet specific benchmarks.
“With you, Chick-fil-A, we only have your word,” she said. It was obvious that that was not enough.
DDOT’s Public Space Committee will rule during its hearing today, February 25th, on whether to grant Chick-fil-A permits to operate this restaurant as a drive-thru. It will have ANC 3F’s resolution in hand. ANC resolutions are to be given “great weight” in decisions of government offices and agencies. In addition, Commissioners Nugent, Gresham and Ray have been designated to speak on behalf of this issue at the hearing. Representatives from Van Ness Main Street and the Forest Hills Citizens Association will testify as well. This hearing (at 1100 4th Street SW on the second floor) is open to the public and starts at 9:15 a.m. Out of 21 agenda items, Chick-fil-A is number 18.
In the traffic study that DDOT requested of Chick-fil-A, there is no analysis of the adequacy of the parking nor impact on pedestrian safety though DDOT has stated in an email that they have considered this impact. Also, DDOT has not required any remedy of Chick-fil-A if its plan does not work. Commissioner Ray’s question, “Where is the teeth?” has not yet been answered.