Site plan approved 6-2 despite aesthetic, traffic concerns
By Steve Bowman
Editor, The Brentwood Spirit
Goodbye, Macaroni Grill. Hello, Chick fil-A.
The Brentwood Board of Aldermen on Monday approved a site plan and a conditional use permit that allows Chick Fil-A to open a fast-food restaurant at Brentwood Pointe shopping center, just northwest of Dierberg’s. It will be built on the site, 8590 Eager Road, where the Romano’s Macaroni Grill operated until it closed on Dec. 29 along with its three other St. Louis locations.
The Chick fil-A will open in the second half of 2015, according to a statement the company provided to the St. Louis Post-Dispatch. It will provide up to 80 jobs.
“I think this is a good business for the city of Brentwood,” said Mayor Pat Kelly. “I have not heard one resident tell me they didn’t want it. They’re asking when it will open. I have not heard this many comments of a business coming into Brentwood since we made the announcement that Trader Joe’s is coming into Brentwood.”
Not everybody is happy that the site plan and permit were approved, however. Dissenters in the board of aldermen’s 6-2 vote were Thomas Kramer and Patrick Toohey, who believe a fast-food restaurant with a drive-through is a step down aesthetically from a Macaroni Grill and not in keeping with the city’s comprehensive plan.
Additionally, concerns about traffic congestion problems that might arise on Eager Road were voiced by members of the Brentwood Planning and Zoning Commission when it discussed and approved the proposal by a vote of 6-3 on Dec. 10.
On Monday the board of aldermen discussed the proposal for more than an hour, seeking input from both Chick fil-A’s engineer and a transportation engineer who completed a traffic study for the proposal. Most of the discussion centered around aesthetics and traffic.
Kramer believes that the Chick fil-A structure as planned will not be as visually attractive as the Macaroni Grill. He said it’s “a lot more similar to a Quik Trip” than it is to the current structure.
Kramer said the city’s comprehensive plan “talks about a desire for a higher standard for aesthetic character throughout the city, and a sense of place. … I think what Brentwood residents are looking for and deserve is really what the Drury folks have delivered to us, which is the Bonefish Grill. The appearance of that area of our city is now substantially enhanced.”
“I find that the aesthetic look of the [Chick fil-A] building just doesn’t match the rest of the development. Additionally, I have major issues with the drive-through itself. If you look at the conditional use permit it talks about preserving the character. I think that is a downgrade to the character of the building.”
But aldermen Keith Robertson disagreed.
“An all-brick building with steel architectural detailing maximizes the use of that design language,” Robertson said. “It’s commonly accepted that all-brick buildings are much better than painted. I think this is a higher aesthetic than the rest of the center.”
Kramer is also concerned that the Chick fil-A in Des Peres is “substantially more upscale than the location that we have presented before us today.” He asked Kelly Stedman from Woolpert Inc., the engineering firm for Chick fil-A, whether the Brentwood and Des Peres restaurants will be aesthetically similar. She said the two designs are from “totally different prototypes.”
After sitting silent during the long discussion about aesthetics, Alderman Lee Wynn had heard enough.
“I remember when my kids used to think that going to the Velvet Freeze was a great thing here in Brentwood,” said Wynn. “They weren’t disparaged. They didn’t say, ‘Dad, that doesn’t meet the standards.’ I find [Chick fil-A] is a place where the kids are excited about working there. I’ve gotten wonderful treatment in the place. If it’s a clean building and is built well. I guarantee you, most of the city is going to love this business.”
Several aldermen expressed concerns that the Chick fil-A would cause traffic congestion on Eager Road and in its parking lot, which will include drive-through lanes. They had numerous questions for Lee Cannon of CBB Transportation Engineers and Planners, who completed a traffic study regarding the proposed restaurant.
Cannon said he recommended eliminating five parking spaces to enlarge the lanes for vehicles entering and exiting the restaurant at Eager Road. Chick fil-A’s engineer has eliminated three spaces instead.
“So the site plan does not conform to the max version of the range of improvements I set out, but they did hit the salient points and it was acceptable,” said Cannon. “They gave up three of those [parking spaces] and didn’t want to give up more because it’s a balance of flow vs. parking.”
The initial analysis also called for a wider turn radius for making a U turn into the restaurant’s parking lot. That change has been made by shifting the building to the west, said Kelly.
When questioned about congestion within the restaurant’s parking lot, Cannon replied, “Chick fil-A has 20-some spaces in the drive-through. They should be able to keep all the drive-through cars in the drive-through lanes outside the parking area. On a busy-busy day they may spill back into the parking area. If they need more parking than your code requires we recommended that they come up with a shared parking agreement with the center … such that the employees could have a space where they’d park so it could free up patron space.”
Alderman Maureen Saunders asked Cannon what would happen if Chick fil-A brings a lot more traffic onto Eager Road than CBB predicts.
“The capacity of Eager Road is way more than what the current volume is,” Cannon said. “You could put three Chick Fil-A’s on Eager Road and the volume would still be fine. That five-lane road has a lot of surplus capacity.”
How members voted
The planning and zoning commission on Dec. 10 voted to recommend approval of the site plan and conditional use permit in a 6-3 vote. “Yes” votes were made by David Plufka, Dan Glowski, Sheri Bilderback, Terry Noles, Rich Obertino and Clint Lewis. “No” votes: David Dimmitt, Jennifer Hansen and John Nuernberger.
Aldermen who voted “yes”: Anthony Harper, Lee Wynn, Keith Robertson, Andy Leahy, Cindy Manestar and Maureen Saunders. “No” votes: Thomas Kramer and Patrick Toohey.