For more than a year, Tucker has been torn over whether Chick-fil-A will be a good neighbor if it relocates near a residential street to build a larger drive-thru restaurant.
The Tucker City Council decided to welcome the fast-food giant to the neighborhood despite city staff opposition and resident concerns over traffic. The council voted 5-1 to approve the restaurant owner’s rezoning request during a lengthy Monday meeting, which featured hours of debate and discussion.
The restaurant’s representatives revamped design plans several times over the past 13 months in an attempt to convince city leaders that it’s a good idea to move the chicken joint a quarter-mile along Hugh Howell Road.
Brad Spratte, who operates the city’s two Chick-fil-A locations, said he’s aware his plans have received relentless opposition, but he plans to do right by his new neighbors.
“I understand that there is trepidation in the community,” said Spratte, who is also the chair of the Tucker-Northlake Community Improvement District. “We promised to be good neighbors. We promised to build something that you will be proud of.”
Chick-fil-A representatives argue the relocation will increase property values and attract other businesses to the corridor, which abuts multiple residential streets. Due to several variances required to add a drive-thru restaurant to the area, both city staff and the Tucker Planning Commission recommended denying the application.
Nearby homeowners have fought tooth-and-nail against the rezoning request, citing concerns over gridlock traffic and the multiple variances required to add a third drive-thru restaurant to the area.
“Chick-fil-A will not be a good neighbor,” resident Lewis Wood said. “I would encourage you to vote for the people of Tucker. Vote for the residents of Tucker instead of a big business only wanting to increase its bottom line.”
A catalyst for change
Spratte has been trying since early 2021 to relocate his Chick-fil-A that’s located in the center of one of the city’s busiest thoroughfares, where Hugh Howell Road meets Lawrenceville Highway.
The building is 33 years old and would need to be torn down and rebuilt into a drive-thru only restaurant to remain viable, a Chick-fil-A representative said during last month’s planning commission meeting.
Matthew Lee, the executive director of the Tucker-Northlake CID, told The Atlanta Journal-Constitution that the restaurant’s days would be numbered if it stayed there, since a city-issued study found the intersection is projected to operate at a failing traffic level as soon as 2025.
“It’s the intersection of two state routes,” Lee said. “It’s intended to handle a high volume of traffic, but it has limits.”
He argued the company’s plan to move to 4435 Hugh Howell Road — the site of a Presbyterian Church and a shuttered BBQ restaurant — will help revitalize the area.
Spratte said his plan to tear down the structures and build a nearly 5,000-square-foot Chick-fil-A with a three-lane drive-thru will improve the area and increase his new neighbor’s property values.
“As we fill vacant buildings, the area will flourish and fewer vacancies will mean a safer community that is walkable and connected,” he said.
However, residents aren’t worried about whether or not the restaurant will succeed. They’re worried it would be too successful, clogging up the residential side streets of Rosser Terrace and Dillard Street. Laura Tate, a Tucker resident who doesn’t live near the relocation site, argued the restaurant is prosperous enough to find a solution that doesn’t ruffle as many feathers.
“They obviously have a great business model, and I feel very confident that they have the resources, the connections, the contacts to come up with a different plan,” she said. “... But I can tell you right now, I would not want a Chick-fil-A at the entrance of my neighborhood.”
Is an ‘E’ a passing grade?
A traffic study found the area is already encumbered by lengthy wait times and bumper-to-bumper backups.
Chick-fil-A’s argument isn’t that the restaurant will help congestion. They say it won’t make it noticeably worse.
The traffic study showed the company’s relocation would generate an additional 1,800 trips in the area. Chick-fil-A’s engineers said that sounds worse than it is in practice since each customer would count as two trips as they drive to pick up their food and drive to leave. On an A to F scale, the traffic study determined the location is currently an “E” and would remain an “E” with the new Chick-fil-A.
“When you take emotion out of the equation and look at the data, we’re talking about a four-second impact,” Company representative Jennifer Santelli said, citing the study’s finding that average delays would increase from 74 to 78 seconds at the intersection of Hugh Howell Road and Cowan Road during evening hours.
Resident Christine Jenkins was not impressed by the traffic study’s score, calling it a failing grade.
“I’ve never gone home and told my mother I got an ‘E’ in math and she said, ‘Good job,’” Jenkins said.
The new three-lane drive-thru is proposed to connect to Rosser Terrace, which homeowners complain is already burdened with cut-through traffic trying to avoid the busy main intersection. Andy Wood, a resident who has campaigned for DeKalb County to place speed bumps along the residential street, said adding Chick-fil-A to the mix is only going to make things worse.
He called it “putting lipstick on a chicken.”
Credit: City of Tucker
Credit: City of Tucker
Redevelopment is inevitable
Councilwoman Noelle Monferdini recused herself from the vote and public hearing since she has a family member who works at Chick-fil-A. Except for one councilmember, the rest of the city leaders decided Chick-fil-A had done enough to earn their endorsement.
“We’ve been kicking this can around long enough,” Councilwoman Anne Lerner said as she made the motion to approve the application request. “I think there’s a lot of things to worry about, but I think there’s a lot of other development that may come as well. So if it’s not Chick-fil-A, it’s something else.”
Councilwoman Virginia Rece was the sole vote against the project. She questioned whether a fast-food restaurant would fulfill the city’s intention for the area to become more walkable and pedestrian-friendly. Chick-fil-A’s plan does maintain a sidewalk along Hugh Howell Road and includes a pedestrian crosswalk along Rosser Terrace — although it crosses the three-lane drive-thru.
Despite the outpouring of opposition, Lerner, Mayor Frank Auman and Councilwoman Alexis Weaver said they’ve privately heard from several neighbors and business community members who support Chick-fil-A’s relocation plans. They said the supporters were hesitant to speak during public meetings due to the strong backlash the proposal has received.
“There are people who do think that Chick-fil-A will be a good neighbor, even in those communities nearby that property,” Weaver said.
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