The council, with member Chris Casdia absent, voted 5-0 to approve recommendations from the city’s planning commission regarding several variances requested for a proposed Panda Express restaurant on an outparcel of the Outlet Shoppes of Atlanta on Ridgewalk Parkway.
The council denied a variance request that would have allowed for a drive-thru on the site, but approved several other requests, including allowing the 18-foot build-to line to be between 50 feet and 60 feet from the back edge of the Ridgewalk Parkway sidewalk; to reduce the required to 60 percent frontage to 28 percent along Ridgewalk Parkway; to waive the requirement for one entrance on each frontage; and to grant a variance from Woodstock’s architectural standards to allow for the restaurant’s “Bright and Fresh” prototype.
The denial comes just a week after the council also denied several variance requests from McDonald’s, which also has plans to go in the outlet center slated to open in June.
Many residents near the shopping center who opposed the McDonald’s variances also spoke out against the proposed changes for Panda Express, citing previous promises of full-service restaurants and lack of walkability due to 25-foot raised lots.
Meridian neighborhood resident Thomas Holtz presented council with a petition with more than 80 signatures opposing the changes and supporting the council’s original proposal to only have two drive-thrus in the six outparcels adjacent to the outlet shops.
Ronnie Smith, another Meridian resident, said the Ridgewalk area could become a “diamond” in Cherokee County if the city maintains its zoning standards.
“We don’t need a (Highway) 92 on Ridgewalk,” Smith said. “(The) highway is nothing but in-and-out traffic on these parcels that have fast food restaurants.”
Robert Snetman, senior development officer with CBL & Associates, said his responsibility is to merchandise the outparcels and he plans to continue to market another outparcel as a full-service restaurant.
“As the project opens up and becomes vibrant, we believe that’s what’s going to happen,” Snetman said, noting other restaurants have eyed the location. “We, like you, feel that is an important component to this shopping center.”
Jay Dawson, president of Montclair at Ridgewalk neighborhood HOA, agreed with his neighbors that the number of drive-thrus should be limited to two.
“If we do it for a third, what about the fourth, fifth and sixth?” he asked. “You made a decision at one time, you need to stick to it.”
Meridian resident Jack Tub added he was under the impression there would be direct sidewalk access to the restaurants on the outparcels.
Council member Randy Brewer asked representatives with Horizon Properties LLC, the developer of the Ridgewalk site, whether adding sidewalks would be feasible.
“That seems to be a big concern with the residents of Meridian,” Brewer said. “And understandably so, because they never knew it was going to be 25 feet in the air. … I can’t tell you to mow it down now, but there’s got to be some way to address this.”
Jeremy Pettit, a representative of Panda Express, argued the site would be challenging with the present elevations to comply with the American Disabilities Act and the climb up the sidewalk would be “exhausting.”
The council also:
• Heard updates about the city’s fiber installation project and the March 2013 financial presentation;
• Approved unanimously a charter amendment to establish the council’s ability to appoint a solicitor on first reading;
• Denied 5-0 a zoning extension for approximately 9.6 acres on the west side of Neese Road to allow for a senior living facility;
• Approved unanimously on second reading changes to the city’s ordinance to allow for charitable solicitation in public rights-of-way;
• Approved 5-0 to authorized Mayor Donnie Henriques to sign off on an application to the state to create a worker’s compensation self-insurance fund;
• Approved a local auction contract for Jeff Dobson & Associates;
• Approved an alcohol license for Pizza Pi Woodstock Inc.;
• Approved a utility billing reorganization; and
• Met in executive session to discuss real estate, personnel and litigation, but took no action upon returning.