The Fayetteville City Council will be hearing a request for rezoning and for two variances that would allow a Tidal Wave Auto Spa to locate at the corner of Highway 314 and Highway 85, a building last occupied by American Buffet.
The building has struggled to find a permanent tenant for decades now, so much so that the applicant for rezoning, Scott Blackstock of SHJ Construction Group, said the owner of the property had relented on a long standing preference not to sell and agreed to sell him the property should the planned zoning change and variances be approved.
The Fayetteville Planning and Zoning Commission first heard the request and returned an unfavorable recommendation for City Council. That led Blackstock to appeal to City Council for approval, and city staff have recommended the zoning changes and variances be approved.
The city heard a first reading of the request at its April 17 meeting, where Brian Wismer, Director of Community Development, explained that many of the nearby parcels are zoned C-3, the applicants' requested zoning, and several other criteria he and city staff use to review rezoning applications were favorable to the applicant's request.
"[The parcel] been left unused for some time, so a rezoning could improve the success there," Wismer said. "We all know it's struggled as far as having a successful long term business."
Wismer also said the applicant's plan to close the curb cut from the property onto Highway 85 presented a unique and desirable opportunity for the city.
"The applicant is planning to close the curb cut on 85, which is almost unheard of," Wismer said.
The curb cut in question is a short distance down the road from where Highway 314 merges into 85, and has caused traffic safety concerns as drivers merging onto 85 are often most focused on looking to the left (North) toward oncoming traffic and are less likely to consider another vehicle might be pulling out of the parking lot in front of them as soon as they merge onto 314.
"I've documented firsthand there certainly are concerns merging onto 85 there," Wismer said. He also added that once the curb cut was gone "you'll never get it back" because of more up to date curb cut rules that would not allow it.
The re-zoning request would allow the automated car wash use desired, but the applicant also is seeking variances to the city's requirements for setbacks and buffers from the road front. Wismer explained that the property was laid out before the city had highway buffer rules preventing parking lots from butting right up against road fronts.
"It can be challenging to meet the requirements of the current zoning on an older property," Wismer said. "If they followed all of these [current] rules, it would not create a lot of useable depth for this particular property."
Wismer also said that while the car wash could be built without the variances, he felt the result would "not look at all like what the city would want," and concluded that allowing the applicant to build as designed, with variances, would likely be a "positive."
The rezoning request drew opposition from nearby business owners as well as residents in nearby neighborhoods who were chiefly concerned with traffic flows through the shopping center that they said frequently cause safety concerns.
Blackstock, who currently owns five similar car washes with a home office in Thomaston, spoke to the council and made the case that he was only asking for the same variances as the immediately adjacent property which has a BP Gas Station that also includes a small drive-through car wash. There is also a self-serve car wash behind the property.
Blackstock, who built this first car wash in 2000 and the first of this style in 2004, also said "virtually all" of his car washes had won awards. He said the person operating the car wash would own half the business and be graded monthly. He said his car washes were expected to put out a good product, provide "Chick-Fil-A quality" customer service, and be "the cleanest and most attractive business in the city."
Blackstock also said the site is proposed to have a "three-stage waterfall," to beautify the property, something he said would tie in aesthetically with the larger waterfall on the corner of Grady Avenue and Highway 54 near Truett's Luau.
"When you're sitting at the red light you will see the waterfall. I think that makes an awfully attractive entrance to Fayetteville on the north side."
He also said he would be repave the area behind the car wash to repair pot holes.
Hakim Hilliard, an Atlanta attorney, spoke against the request at the April 17 meeting on behalf of three nearby properties.
Hilliard said the property is not easily accessible from the roadway, causing concerns for commercial and residential neighbors as traffic would have to go through either the shopping center parking lots on one end or a residential street on the other. He said those concerns had been raised before in Planning and Zoning meetings but never answered.
Hilliard also said allowing a car wash would adversely affect nearby properties who also have car washes.
In addition to those concerns, Hilliard said Blackstock misrepresented the aesthetic quality of his car washes and presented some example photographs of other car washes he owned. Blackstock later responded that the photos were selectively taken and didn't represent the quality of the proposed building. He also said the buildings shown were existing old car washes that had to be renovated because "local ordinances wouldn't allow a new structure to be built."
Hilliard also argued that a variance can only be granted when the existing ordinance presents a
"legal hardship preventing the development." He said Blackstock admitted himself that the car wash could be fit into the property without the variances, but with a less desirable configuration.
"Here's the kicker," Hilliard said. "When an applicant gets up and says it could be done without the variance, that's code word for there's no hardship. If he can do it by making it smaller, there's no hardship."
Hilliard also asserted that if the city chooses to approve the variances, the decision would be overturned if challenged in court.
Wismer responded, saying essentially he believed the city's criteria for granting variances was more flexible than Hilliard had suggested and included variances for ordinances that create a "practical difficulty."
Wismer also addressed other concerns in a memo following up the April 17 meeting, in which he said the proposed design for the car wash satisfied the "three main elements" in deciding whether to grant a variance: it will not be contrary to the public interest, enforcement of the ordinance would result in a practical difficult or unnecessary hardship, and the spirit of the regulations will be observed.
The second public reading of the proposed re-zoning and variance requests will be heard Thursday night, after which council can vote on the matter.