Chick-fil-A Expected to Propose Second Pasadena Restaurant at District 5 Town Hall Meeting Tonight

Published : Thursday, August 29, 2019 | 5:28 AM

Map at left shows likely location at 790 North Lake Avenue in "fast food restaurant row" area; at top right, Pasadena's existing Chick-fil-A at 1700 E. Colorado Blvd. near PCC; at bottom right, a view of the location from street level. It was formerly occupied by Carl's Jr. Images courtesy Open Street Maps, Google, and Chick-fil-A

A presentation by a Chick-fil-A representative is on the agenda for tonight’s District 5 Town Hall Meeting called by Councilmember Victor Gordo. The company reportedly wants to put a new Chick-fil-A restaurant at 790 N. Lake Ave. replacing what was a Carl’s Jr. location.

Gordo said he declined to meet privately with the company representative and instead added a public presentation of the proposal to his regular District 5 Town Hall meeting.

“Development in general is an important subject and this proposal specifically will garner a lot of interest,” Gordo said. “Having the facts presented in an open and public forum is important.”

Chick-fil-A is a lightning rod for politically-charged controversy because its corporate culture and business model is grounded on its founder’s religious beliefs. Since its beginnings in 1967 none of its restaurants has been open on Sunday, respecting a Biblical admonition to rest and worship on that day.

Then in 2012 the chain’s current Chief Executive Officer Dan Cathy, son of founder S. Truett Cathy, was quoted in an interview with the Baptist Press as saying the corporation is “very much supportive of the family — the biblical definition of the family unit” — that is, marriage between a man and a woman.

“We are a family-owned business, a family-led business, and we are married to our first wives. We give God thanks for that,” Cathy was quoted as saying.

That interview unleashed a firestorm of public reaction which has engulfed the company ever since.

Pasadena District 5 Councilmember Victor Gordo

In spite of nationwide protests and controversy, Chick-fil-A is now the third highest-selling chain behind only Starbucks and McDonald’s, according to trade publication Nation’s Restaurant News.

Chick-fil-A already operates a local restaurant at 1700 E. Colorado Boulevard.

For its part, Chick-fil-A is remaining noncommittal about a second Pasadena location.

“Chick-fil-A is always looking for opportunities to serve customers great food in a welcoming atmosphere,” the company said in response to a Pasadena Now query. “The location you are inquiring about is only in very preliminary stages, and the company does not confirm new locations until permits are granted and/or ground has broken.”

At the meeting Thursday, City of Pasadena staff members plan to educate the public on a variety of issues and procedures that need to take place before a new drive-thru restaurant can move into the North Lake Avenue site.

“There has been no application submitted to the city but they’ve come to us and they said they are thinking of this site as a real potential,” Reyes said. “We met with a representative from Chick-fil-A named Jennifer Daw and Jennifer was the representative for the project for East Pasadena next to PCC as well. My understanding is Jennifer will be at the meeting to explain the proposal and take questions.”

Reyes said his staff initially met with Daw on July 16.

Jennifer Paige, Pasadena’s Deputy Planning Director, is scheduled to be in attendance at the District 5 Town Hall and is expected to explain that a drive-thru restaurant project would need a public hearing and a conditional use permit to be approved.

Zoning regulations may or may not permit a drive-thru restaurant to go in at a location with a drive-thru already in existence according to specific conditions.

“In the North Lake-specific plans, drive-thrus are generally prohibited because we don’t want any more drive-thrus there,” Reyes said. “But the code allows specifically existing drive-thrus to be demolished and rebuilt as long as the new drive-thru doesn’t exceed the square footage of the existing drive-thru.”

Regardless of the company’s religious or political stance, the City of Pasadena has rules to follow. Quality of life and continuing development are generally topics of concern to residents.

Gordo observed, “We specifically carved out that part of Lake Ave. between Mountain and Orange Grove at the request of the neighbors to protect the neighborhood from overdevelopment that may negatively impact the quality of life.”

City of Pasadena Zoning Code

Reyes cited important City of Pasadena Zoning requirements.

“As part of the conditional use permit various analyses will happen and we’ll look at things like potential impact from noise, litter, queuing, traffic, parking, etcetera,” he said. “We’ll explain that there is a process. No application has been submitted to the City as yet [from Chick-fil-A].”

“If an application is submitted, planning staff will accept the application and will route it to other departments for their comments, including the department of transportation,” Reyes said. “But ultimately that’s a discretionary approval, meaning that staff makes a staff report and a recommendation. A hearing officer can then make a decision after hearing public testimony, or continue the matter for further study.”

Reyes added: “Once the (staff) decision is ultimately made, that decision is appealable to the board of zoning appeals and ultimately to the city council. So there’s nothing happening that’s by right or that they can just come into the neighborhood without thorough review. And that’s the process that generally with the CUP generally takes anywhere from four to six months to happen and then they would still need building permits to demolish. I think the applicant could speak better to the timeline because again they’ve only talked to us about a potential idea, they’ve not submitted an application to us.”

Laura Cornejo, director of the Pasadena Department of Transportation, said that her department also needs to make the proper analyses. Cornejo said she was invited to the meeting as her department also will play a critical role in the evaluation of any application from a traffic aspect.

“At this point because we haven’t received an application [from Chick-fil-A],” she said. “We haven’t really initiated our process, but generally this being the type of proposed development that it is, we would expect there to be a transportation analysis, a ‘queuing’ analysis, knowing the type of business that it is. There might be some other conditions that we recommend to insure the safety of pedestrians and others that might be in the area or might go to the business. But again, until we receive the application and then it gets routed to the department that’s really when this process gets initiated.”

Land Use

In 2014, both Gordo and Pasadena Mayor Terry Tornek opposed Chick-fil-A’s first Pasadena location, which ultimately was approved and operates on the corner of Colorado Boulevard and Bonnie Avenue.

“I opposed the proposal vigorously because I felt it was a gross underutilization of mixed-use land,” Tornek said. “That being said, I think Chick-fil-A has been a good operator, they’ve been engaged with the community. I think Victor Gordo is doing the right thing to have this public meeting.”

Mayor Tornek’s opposition in 2014 had to do with having a better purpose for the land than merely to house a drive-thru restaurant. But the land at 790 N. Lake is zoned differently.

Reyes pointed out that zoning is restricted at the 790 N. Lake location, between Mountain Street and Orange Grove Boulevard, where the subdistrict promotes “only a commercial character, and excludes residential, mixed-use, and work/live units.”

Reyes said: “I think that the opposition that the Mayor expressed previously — when facts are laid out — typically that’s not one of the findings that comes into play. But the mayor’s point was well taken. Cities don’t propose projects, we only process applications that are submitted to us.”

Various City departments will be on hand at tonight’s meeting.

“If there’s a project-specific issue, Councilmembers typically reach out to staff members for the departments involved,” Reyes said. “And whether it’s a housing issue or a public safety issue, which I think is also on the agenda on Thursday, we might have a representative from [Pasadena Police Department] there so it’s typical that staff would be there for a particular topic.”

Drive-Thru Possibly ‘Grandfathered In’

Could having an existing drive-thru already at the location impact the likelihood of putting another drive-thru in its place, despite the city not wanting another drive-thru on North Lake?

“There’s a public hearing process for that,” Reyes said. “Until a project is submitted, and a full analysis is done by all departments, city staff would not have a position on whether they’re recommending approval or disapproval. If you have an existing drive-thru you can tear down and rebuild if you don’t exceed the square footage. That’s not the same in other areas. But you still need a conditional use permit to do it.”

Reyes said in another situation the length of time the Carl’s Jr. has been closed down might impact the conditional use permit, but likely not in this case.

“Likely not because the code section, it says a drive-thru can be demolished and rebuilt,” Reyes said. “A conditional use permit loses its validity after one year of ‘non-use,’ if you will. The situation here is not about a CUP being continued or renewed it’s about a new conditional use permit going in. So it’s a little bit different in terms of the general standard. There is a general standard in our zoning code that says if you have a conditional use permit and the use lapses for one year, then the CUP is null and void. That is not the situation here.”

Also on the agenda will be a public safety presentation by the Pasadena Police Department. Chief John Perez will be on hand to discuss homeless activities with outreach and enforcement efforts and activity at Washington Park and Lake Ave. and Washington Blvd, Commander Jason Clawson of the Pasadena Police Department said.

Councilmember Victor Gordo’s District 5 Town Hall Meeting is scheduled for Thursday, August 29, from 6:30 to 8:00 p.m. at the Santa Catalina Branch Library, 999 E. Washington Blvd. For information call (626) 744-4741.