The City Council voted 3-2 on April 23 to allow a zoning change to accommodate a drive-through restaurant on Willow Pass Road at the location of the long-vacant Lin’s Restaurant.
Two major issues are rattling residents. One is the idea of a drive-through restaurant on a major corridor to the city’s center. The other is more problematic: Chick-fil-A’s corporate management is notorious for its anti-LGBTQ stance, donating money to defeat gay marriage in many states.
“We passed a conditional use permit (if the zoning is changed),” said Councilman Edi Birsan, who approved the measure. “We did not approve a Chick-fil-A yet in that location.”
But even the mention of Chick-fil-A set off a firestorm on social media and in public comments.
“What makes me mad is the duplicitous nature of this ‘zoning issue,’” resident Patrick Hardy told the Pioneer. “It’s a convenient way for the council to approve Chick Fil-A without getting their hands dirty.”
More review ahead
It is still a long way before the chicken restaurant would put a shovel in the ground. Its proposal must pass the Design Review Committee, the Planning Commission, environmental reviews and a traffic study.
“I’m most anxious to see the traffic study results,” Birsan said.
Mayor Carlyn Obringer as well as Councilwoman Laura Hoffmeister opposed the zoning change. Obringer noted that the site is a prime piece of real estate in the heart of Concord’s Class A office space.
“I am deeply concerned that locating a drive-through fast food restaurant in this area could negatively impact our Class A office leasing,” she said. “Over the past few years, we have made progress in attracting living-wage jobs to the surrounding office buildings. I wouldn’t want to do anything to stymie that progress. It doesn’t make sense to me to go through the extensive process of changing the city’s general plan to accommodate property owners who haven’t yet made a concerted effort to market the property.”
She said she would welcome the opportunity to partner with the property owner to better understand his goals and see how he and the city could work together to attract a “better and higher use” than drive-through fast food.
“I am confident we can do better,” Obringer said. “There is no need to sell our Concord community short.”
Landowner Pete Canzani told Birsan that Chick-Fil-A showed the only interest and had what he considered a good plan in place.
“All other corners around that intersection are zoned for fast food establishments,” Birsan said. “Why separate this one? It makes no sense.”
Councilman Dominic Aliano agreed. “The majority on the council felt it should be rezoned,” he said. “It will be nice to have some investment in that location.”
Hoffmeister, like Obringer, said a fast food restaurant was not an appropriate use of the land. “I’m disappointed that a different type of business is not being considered, like a hotel or an office building. There are other locations near freeway access for a fast food establishment, like near Lowe’s off Highway 4,” she said at the meeting. “A nice sit-down restaurant would be nice.”
Birsan countered by saying it was “pretentious” to assume that residents working in Class-A office buildings nearby wouldn’t eat there. He also addressed what he called “the elephant in the room.”
“Let’s face it. Chick-fil-A has a horrendous owner, but this isn’t about their politics.” He went to say he supported LGBTQ rights as mayor, being the first to fly the rainbow flag.
A question of family
Many residents believe that by approving the zoning change, Concord’s leaders are forgetting the city’s motto of “Families First.”
“I noticed that city staff made it easy for the council, as they did not recommend the zoning change,” says Steven Hardy, Patrick Hardy’s husband. “Carlyn and Laura said no, but all three guys (Birsan, Aliano and Tim McGallian) said yes to the change. …. I’ve concluded that the three guys don’t truly understand the difficulties between the LGBTQ community and Chick-fil-A. Or they don’t care.
“For me personally, I would like people to know this is not a political issue,” Steven Hardy continued. “My problem is Chick-fil-A has attacked my family and continues to do so by wanting to dissolve my marriage. They put themselves in the middle of the culture wars. This is ongoing, not a one-time issue.”