Variance lets owner in center plan fast-food restaurant

       Despite opposition from the owner of a larger adjoining property, Colorado Springs Planning Commission in August approved a parking variance that would allow a fast-food restaurant on a half-acre parcel at Eighth Street and Moreno Avenue.
       The restaurant - as yet unnamed - would use half of the parcel's one building, a 5,000-square-foot, one-story, freestanding structure at the southwest corner of the shopping center anchored by Office Depot and Hobby Lobby.

Part of the shopping center off Eighth Street and Moreno Avenue can be seen looking southeast from Eighth. The center has two properties. The owners of most of the center, including the Office Depot (left), unsuccessfully sought City Planning Commission disapproval of a parking variance request by the owners of the half-acre with the freestanding building (far right), who want to put a fast-food restaurant there.
Westside Pioneer photo

       The variance was requested by THJ & J LLC, the half-acre parcel's owner. A city formula normally would call for 33 parking spaces in such a layout, but the THJ land only has 16, leading to the variance request.
       Contacted this week, John Nelson, the project architect, said the Planning Commission approval “frees my client up” to leasing capabilities that weren't possible when parking was a question mark. Negotiations are ongoing with “two or three” national fast-food companies that are interested in the location, with the possibility of a deal within a month, he revealed.
       The use was sought by THJ in the face of problems keeping building tenants in recent years, along with the site's proximity to other restaurants (the Sonic and Texas Roadhouse), project information states.
       Opposition at the meeting was voiced by Rich Walker, representing Eighth Avenue LLC, which owns the bulk of the shopping center - 6.7 acres including the Office Depot and Hobby Lobby stores and the rest of the parking lot. Walker told the commissioners that it was a property rights issue, in that customers from the THJ property would likely park in Eighth Avenue-owned spaces. Additionally, Walker said that Eighth Avenue has been hopeful of developing a fast-food site of its own (near the Auto Zone store); however, no plans have been submitted to the city.
       Commission members appeared convinced that the lot will still have ample parking; they also expressed an overall concern that denying the request would have a negative effect on a shopping center that could become blighted. Commissioner Carla Hartsell said she thought the request met the “extraordinary” requirement for granting variances because the project represents redevelopment in the core area of the city.
       A similar request by THJ had been turned down by Planning Commission about two years ago, when the Walker-represented group also objected. “We were more prepared this time,” Nelson said, when asked what he thought the difference was. “We spelled out the benefits to the city more effectively, and we had the active support of senior planning staff [Ryan Tefertiller, who recommended approval].”

Westside Pioneer article