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Traffic fix, or traffic fail? Charlotte considers drive-through-only Chick-fil-A

A rendering of a Chick-fil-A
Rezoning filing
City of Charlotte
The drive-thru-only Chick-fil-A on Randolph, as proposed by Chick-fil-A

The Charlotte City Council held a public hearing Monday night on whether to approve a rezoning plan that would allow Chick-fil-A to demolish its existing restaurant in Cotswold and replace it with a drive-through-only building.

The upcoming vote is seen as a key test of the city’s commitment to its goal of reducing the number of car trips.

City staff said the new restaurant would be inconsistent with the 2040 Plan, which City Council approved last year in a 6-5 vote. It aims to make Charlotte a more dense, walkable city.

But planners nevertheless recommended in favor of the rezoning — in part because the new Chick-fil-A would be able to handle more cars, since it would have three drive-thru lines instead of the current restaurant's two. They said that would relieve frequent backups caused by the cars waiting at the restaurant spilling onto and partially blocking Randolph Road.

“We’re trying to find a practical solution to an existing queuing problem for a use that’s been there 21 years and has 140 employees and has been a benefit to community in which I live,” said attorney John Carmichael, who represents Chick-fil-A. City planners also pointed out that the restaurant would include outdoor seating and an improved sidewalk.

Several years ago, Chick-fil-A rebuilt a similar restaurant with no indoor seating on Woodlawn Road to increase drive-thru capacity.

Carmichael said a study showed that the new design reduced the number of backups onto Woodlawn.

But some council members, such as Mayor Pro Tem Braxton Winston, were skeptical. They worried that adding more drive-through capacity will simply encourage even more people to drive there.

Winston said if the restaurant eliminates its dining room, then it’s requiring all of its customers to drive.

“You do have induced demand right now for vehicle traffic, because if you had the ability for people to eat inside, you would potentially have less vehicles there,” Winston said.

Council could take a vote on the rezoning next month.

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Steve Harrison is WFAE's politics and government reporter. Prior to joining WFAE, Steve worked at the Charlotte Observer, where he started on the business desk, then covered politics extensively as the Observer’s lead city government reporter. Steve also spent 10 years with the Miami Herald. His work has appeared in The Washington Post, the Sporting News and Sports Illustrated.