By LANDON WOODROOF
The traffic is unavoidable at certain times of day. You turn into the Brentwood Place Shopping Center off of Franklin Road and get stuck in an overflow of cars from Chick-fil-A whether you are planning to go to the restaurant or not.
On Tuesday night, the Brentwood Planning Commission recommended approval of two agenda items aimed partially at alleviating the restaurant-related traffic congestion.
The first item concerns a redesign of the Brentwood Place parking lot in front of Stein Mart, while the other involves an expansion and redesign of the Chick-fil-A restaurant itself.
Brentwood Place wants to re-stripe the parking lot in front of Stein Mart to make the spaces angled rather than horizontal. This will add 42 additional spots to the lot. While it is going about making these changes, Brentwood Place has agreed to make other modifications that will hopefully help drivers dealing with Chick-fil-A traffic.
The foremost improvement in this regard will be the creation of an extra bypass lane coming in from Franklin Road at the main, signal entrance to Brentwood Place, across from Brentwood United Methodist Church. There is currently only one lane entering the shopping center at the signal. The plan presented Tuesday night would keep that lane, but add another lane just to its south. The intent is for this lane to allow drivers to glide to the right past backed up cars waiting to get into Chick-fil-A.
The space for bypass lane is being created from removing trees and a few parking spaces to the south of the current entrance drive.
Planning Commissioner Ken Travis wondered if this would really solve the issue. If traffic is backed up badly enough going into Chick-fil-A would people even be able to get to the bypass lane, which would kind of branch off from the main lane after a person had already driven a short distance into the shopping center?
“Is there anyway where that could be a complete straight shot in there?” he asked.
City Manager Kirk Bednar said it was possible, but would take a lot of work.
“Physically can it be done?” he asked. “Yes, it can be done, but you’re talking a significant project to move that light and deal with all the utilities.”
The Brentwood Place plan would also relocate an access point to the main entry drive from the Stein Mart parking lot so that access point does not sit directly across the drive from an access point into Chick-fil-A. It is hoped that by staggering these entryways, traffic an be improved.
Hindman spoke in favor of the plan.
“We are significantly increasing the capacity,” he said. “This plan increases traffic flow, increases parking, increases green space and improves Chick-fil-A.”
The plan was unanimously approved by the Planning Commission.
The second half of the Planning Commission’s look at tackling the Chick-fil-A traffic conundrum came from a plan presented by Chick-fil-A representatives.
This plan would make a number of changes to the restaurant’s design to bring it up to date with the chain’s newer stores and also to help it deal with high customer volume and vehicle traffic.
“This is one of our most successful Chick-fil-As,” Evan Foster, who works at the Chick-fil-A Support Center in Atlanta, said. “That’s why we’re here today. We have a very successful town and a very successful Chick-fil-A, which creates a lot of traffic.”
Foster said he has been working on solving the issues at this restaurant location for three years.
“I would just say the end result is pretty much everything we can do without scrapping the building and rebuilding it,” he said.
One of the main changes discussed dealt with the building’s drive-through lanes and the parking adjacent to those lanes on the south side of the building.
“Right now we really have what we call a single approach multilane and our customers have turned it into a double approach,” Foster said. “It wasn’t really designed to have two full lanes. It’s one lane that splits into two and comes back into one. We want to fix that and put in two full lanes.”
In order to create two full drive through lanes, the restaurant will turn the angled parking on the south side of the building into parallel parking. That will also allow the creation of an additional 18-foot wide lane that can be used to bypass the drive through and go around the building.
The two full drive through lanes will be partially covered by canopies, which restaurant operator Barry Hooper said would allow workers to take orders outside more of ten.
As part of this project, the order point for drivers will actually be moved back farther from Franklin Road.
“That can add two to four cars in the drive through stack, just pushing that back,” Foster said.
Additionally, the restaurant’s kitchen and preparation area for drive-through orders will be expanded.
Foster said the kitchen was out of date and that the staging area for drive-through orders was inadequate for a restaurant that now sees 65 percent of its business come through the drive-through window.
The Brentwood restaurant presently serves about 140 cars per hour during peak times, Foster said.
“If we can increase the number of cars by 60 to 70 cars in an hour that would greatly enhance the situation,” he said.
Most of the commissioners were on board with Chick-fil-A’s ideas.
“In my opinion, anything will help,” Planning Commissioner Carole Crigger said. “It’s a total mess right now.”
In the end, only Commissioner Brandon Oliver voted against recommending the restaurant’s plan.
“This has gone from just a restaurant with a simple drive-through to mass food production,” he said. “I think we have to look at the precedent we’re setting as a council to say, Hey listen we’re gonna allow every drive through that gets popular to keep expanding, and it’s no longer one car coming through and getting served. We’re just gonna make it as wide as we can to get as many people through there as possible.” He also specifically took issue with the idea of the canopies, saying that were “out of touch with this city.”
Hooper was pleased with the commission’s vote. He said the redesigns will have a positive impact on his business’s ability to serve its customers.
“This is huge,” he said. “This will allow us to do things more efficient. I know it will help growth, but to me it’s actually handling currently what we’re doing. We’re behind on getting these improvements.”
Foster said the next steps in the process involve design work and permitting for the project. The construction process itself could close the restaurant for anywhere from four to eight weeks. He said the company was shooting for work to be done in the first quarter of 2018.
Foster said the company is currently looking for another location near this area to help further alleviate traffic at the Brentwood store and meet consumer demand.