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UPDATED: Chick-fil-A planning a Tacoma store

Post by Kathleen Cooper / The News Tribune on July 17, 2013 at 9:51 am |
July 17, 2013 8:58 pm

Georgia-based Chick-fil-A, known for its chicken sandwiches and waffle fries, plans to open a drive-through restaurant in Tacoma.

The plans were filed with the City of Tacoma this morning and first noted by local blog exit133.com. A project manager confirmed them to The News Tribune. Those plans indicate the company plans a 4,567-square-foot restaurant at 3902 Steele St., near the Ashley Furniture store in the Tacoma Mall area.

This image of a generic Chick-Fil-A drive-through was provided by the company through its website.
This image of a generic Chick-fil-A drive-through was provided by the company through its website.

The plans don’t list a timeline for construction. I’m working to get in contact with someone from the company to elaborate. The company doesn’t operate in Washington state now, and given supply chain needs, it seems unlikely the Tacoma store will be the only one. Currently closest store to Tacoma is in Boise.

The company is privately held and family owned. It’s second only to KFC in fast-food chicken service.

Chick-fil-A was founded in the 1960s by Truett Cathy. His son Dan, the company’s president and COO, made news last year for his remarks opposing gay marriage. The company, which operated primarily in the Southern United States for many years before expanding nationally, has long been identified with conservative Christian philosophy. For years, the most visible sign of that for most customers was that its locations are closed on Sundays.

UPDATE, 2:00 p.m.: I received an email from Chick-fil-A’s corporate public relations department. Brenda Morrow said it was “a bit too premature to announce our real estate partnerships in the local communities in Washington and more specifically Tacoma.” She went on to say the state is a growth market.

As Doug Taylor noted in the comments, the company has applied for permits for a store in Lynwood, too. It’s probable there are other land-use applications out there in various cities. If you all spot them in your hometown, please let us know!

Finally, I read the Tacoma land use application more thoroughly. The restaurant will include a play area and provide seating for 111 people. The company is asking the city to make some exceptions to its development rules, most significantly to allow a drive-through on the site.

Bear with this next narrative — we’re working on a map and graphic that hopefully will make it more clear.

The site they propose to build on is weird. It’s southwest of the intersection of South 38th and Steele — as you’re driving toward the mall on Steele, it’s on your right. Right now it’s a parking lot. It’s small, just about 28,000 square feet. About 7,000 square feet of that are behind a massive retaining wall — necessary because the site is on a slope. Right now, the “ground level” of the site is higher than the sidewalk.

The entrance to the site is off Steele Street — it’s that driveway that people primarily use to turn in to the Ashley Furniture store parking lot.

According to the company’s permit request, the most important exception is related to the drive-through, and the design of it requires exceptions to three other rules.

The company calls the drive-through a “core corporate competency and essential element of the national brand.” In its application to the city, it says “it is our difficulty with meeting this standard that gives rise to the other conflicts.”

The site in question is in a commercial mixed-use district and faces Steele Street, designated as a primary pedestrian street. City code requires drive-throughs in commercial mixed-use districts to be along the side or at the back of the building. The idea is to keep cars from standing in between a commercial building and a person on the sidewalk.

Chick-fil-A, in its variance request, said city staff has said it “would not entertain any new or modified driveways” onto the site. Since the only entrance now is off Steele Street to the north of the site, the company proposes the restaurant essentially face sideways from the perspective of a person standing on the sidewalk in front of it. The drive-through then would wrap around the building, counter-clockwise, with the food delivery window facing Steele Street.

The company proposes architectural and landscaping features to keep the drive-through from being visible from the sidewalk.

If the building is laid out this way, it puts it in violation of other development rules: More than half of its facade will be set back from the street more than 20 feet; the facade facing the public street won’t have windows; and the primary customer entrance won’t be directly accessible from the street and will be father than 20 feet from the street.

The city will accept public comments on the company’s request of variances until Aug. 1**. The area neighborhood council, a qualified neighborhood group or five or more adjacent property owners can request a public meeting*. A final decision will be made after the comment period.

*UPDATE, 3:15 p.m.: Shirley Schultz, the city planner handling the Chick-fil-A variance request, clarified for me that a public meeting can be requested only if someone decides to appeal the city’s final decision on the variance.

**UPDATE, 4:10 p.m.: Schultz said the public notice posted Wednesday was mistaken in implying that a public meeting can be requested on variances. The notice has been corrected, and it will be reposted and mailed Friday, moving the public comment date closing to Aug. 2.

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