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Thursday, April 18, 2013

Proposed Dunkin' Donuts near Little Five Points worries residents in surrounding communities

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  • Courtesy Dunkin' Donuts
Nearby residents and business owners are concerned over a proposed Dunkin' Donuts that would bring a drive-thru near the heart of Little Five Points.

The Massachusetts-based pastry and coffee behemoth wants to retrofit the vacant building at 299 Moreland Avenue just south of the commercial area. If all goes according to plan, Dunkin' Donuts spokesman Justin Drake said, the company could open the new restaurant by the end of 2013.

"The restaurant will stay true to the characteristic architecture of the existing building and will also feature an outdoor patio area, bike racks and easy pedestrian access," he said.

Dunkin' Donuts says the deal hinges on the drive-thru, which typically generates more than three-quarters of a typical location's sales. According to Architect Jon Bencich and Dan Tavares, Dunkin' Donuts' development manager, city planning officials said that a drive-thru could be built on the property because the building originally housed a gas station and later a laundromat with a drive-thru. As a result, the zoning predates the neighborhood commercial ordinances that help protect Little Five Points' character.

Before Dunkin' Donuts can build the new location, developers must ask the city for an exemption from a zoning ordinance that requires a business to have a minimum number of parking spots. Under current laws, the lot requires 43 parking spots. Dunkin' Donuts' proposed site plan calls for 30 spots.

Bencich says the landlord also owns the adjacent Sherwin-Williams, which is technically considered the same lot, and supports the variance.

Some community groups want to block Dunkin' Donuts' plan. Both the Candler Park and Inman Park neighborhood associations recently voted against the parking variance. Meanwhile, residents and business owners have encouraged their Neighborhood Planning Unit, which could sway the Board of Zoning Adjustment's decision next month, to stand with them.

The Little Five Points Business Association has retained legal counsel to challenge the drive-thru if the BZA decides in favor of Dunkin' Donuts. Wrecking Bar owner Bob Sandage said the company has made a "deliberate attempt to circumvent" the neighborhood commercial ordinance.

"That's the kind of mentality we're dealing with here," he said. "It's really upsetting to the [Little Five Points] Business Association and the neighborhoods behind Josephine [Street] and Candler Park that there's been an attempt to find loopholes in the code set up 11 years ago to protect against this very thing."

Inman Park resident and former Little Five Points Business Association president Richard Shapiro thinks that the Dunkin' Donuts drive-thru would set a bad precedent for the neighborhood. If allowed, he says, it would open the door for future fast-food establishments such as Krystal, Burger King, or Long John Silver's - all of which, he says, are "incompatible" with the neighborhood's commercial zoning.

"It's inappropriate to the site," said Shapiro. "It's inappropriate to the zoning. It's inappropriate to the neighbors. It's inappropriate to the business district."

The variance will come before the city's BZA on May 9.

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