Charlotte City Council approves drive-thru only Chick-fil-A in Cotswold

CHARLOTTE — The Charlotte City Council voted 8-3 Tuesday to allow the Cotswold Chick-fil-A to demolish its Cotswold location and replace it with a drive-thru-only restaurant.

“This was a drive-thru yesterday. It is a drive-thru today and no matter what we do around here, it will be a drive-thru tomorrow,” Councilman Tariq Bokhari said. “The question at hand is someone with their own dollars in the private sector has decided to come forward and invest and make it better, more efficient, more walkable.”

Bokhari and Chick-fil-A supporters pointed out the restaurant has been operating like this for a while. The only difference will be a new building. The restaurant is promising a walk-up window and an outdoor-dining area as well as a $70,000 donation for a new traffic light. There will be a new median on Randolph Road, meaning if you take that street, you’ll only be able to access the restaurant if you’re making a right-hand turn.

“As someone who doesn’t really believe we need more drive-thrus, this really helps us create a more pedestrian-friendly environment because of the improvements that the petitioner is making,” Councilmember Dimple Ajmera said.

Opponents of the plan worry it makes Cotswold too car-dependent and could make traffic on Randolph Road worse.

Planning Commission Chair Keba Samuel sent a letter to Charlotte City Council urging leaders to vote no.

“Approving this rezoning and allowing for a more auto-intense use of this site in an area that is becoming more urban, an area where council has recently approved additional density, is highly contradictory,” Samuel wrote.

Mayor Pro Tem Braxton Winston read her letter into the official record and then tried to ask the Zoning Committee why they are in favor it. That discussion led to objections from some council members. The city attorney ultimately allowed him to question the Zoning Committee. The vice chair said the committee stands by its approval.

Councilmembers Renee Johnson, LaWana Mayfield and Winston voted against the project.

It’s unclear when the Cotswold location will close for demolition. When it is rebuilt, there may be two Chick-fil-As in the area. Last year, the Charlotte City Council approved a Chick-fil-A near Grier Heights in the Food Lion shopping center.

(WATCH BELOW: Cotswold Chick-fil-A could be replaced with drive-thru only restaurant)

Charlotte-Mecklenburg Planning Commission Chair Keba Samuel’s letter to Charlotte City Council:

Mayor Lyles, Mayor Pro-Tem Winston, and Council Members,

Please vote no on Rezoning Petition 2021-232 by Chick-Fil-A.  Approving this rezoning and allowing for a more auto-intense use of this site in an area that is becoming more urban, an area where the Council has recently approved additional density, is highly contradictory.  I believe it will set a dangerous precedent for any additional EDEE’s in this or adjacent blocks and likely allow for further auto-intense development.  Allowing more cars to sit idling in queue goes against action areas in the SEAP and against Goal 6 of the 2040 Comprehensive Plan to “enable healthy and active lifestyles by reducing exposure to harmful environmental contaminants...”

The last bullet point outlined in the staff recommendation section of the Final Staff Analysis is the petition could facilitate the following 2040 Comprehensive Plan Goals:

  • Goal 1: 10-minute Neighborhoods
  • Goal 5: Safe & Equitable Mobility
  • Goal 8: Diverse & Resilient Economic Opportunity

However, as I evaluated this petition, I found that the petition does not meet key elements of these goals as follows:

Goal 5.C: - Increase access to sustainable and zero-carbon transportation modes and mobility options to support our Strategic Energy Action Plan.

Goal 5.D: - Increase the share of trips made without a car to broaden the connectivity and capacity of our transportation infrastructure.

Goal 8: Overall objective - Charlotteans will have opportunities for upward mobility to align education and skill levels with a diverse mix of employment opportunities, especially in the city’s targeted and supported industries.

I was originally hesitant to deliver this communication, considering my role as chair of the Planning Commission.  I assure you this is not an attempt to undermine the work of the Zoning Committee members or planning staff.  I’ve spoken directly to the chair of the Zoning Committee as well as our Interim Planning Director Craig and informed them both of my intent to send this communication.  My opinion just happens to be opposite theirs in this particular case and I feel strongly enough about it to send this message to you all.  I do not currently support a ban on all drive thrus, but we must be extremely careful, thoughtful, and forward-looking when considering expanding drive thru allowances in areas of our city that we know are densifying.   This particular petition might be an example of competing priorities - increase walkability and reduce environmental burdens vs increasing auto-intensive uses and attempting to mitigate traffic concerns, which, in my opinion, were primarily created by the petitioner.

In this scenario, where you have a choice to: A) Deny this petition, reject the potential setting of detrimental precedent, move us a little closer to a less auto-dependent community, positively impact sustainability efforts, focus on moving people (not just cars), allow and request/require the retailer to mitigate traffic issues that it has helped create or B) Approve this rezoning

Please choose Option A and deny Rezoning Petition 2021-232 by Chick-Fil-A: In the short window between now and your decision tonight, I thank you for your time reading this and I am available to discuss if needed.

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