It was a tale of two restauranteurs in Burlington on Monday as the city’s planning and zoning commission dealt two contrasting verdicts to a pair of rezoning requests that the owners of two eateries had proposed in different parts of the city.
That night’s proceedings proved to be the best of times for a franchisee of the Culver’s restaurant chain, which hopes to break ground on the company’s first Alamance County location near the intersection of University Drive and Rural Retreat Road. The commission ultimately voted 4-to-1 to recommend this request to Burlington’s city council.
But the commission’s members weren’t nearly as generous with the owner of Taaza’s Indian Bistro, who wants to set up unspecified development along Maple Avenue. The bistro’s proprietor was ultimately unable to get a single vote of support from the members of this appointed advisory board.
The commission’s members were ultimately quite amendable to the proposed arrival of Culver’s, whose blend of fast food and casual dining has already ensconced itself in about 900 locations in some 26 states.
Known for its signature “ButterBurgers,” cheese curds, and frozen custards, Culver currently has franchises in several North Carolina communities, including Winston-Salem, Kernersville, and Apex.
Eric Roeske, the owner and operator of the Culver’s in Apex, now hopes to bring this chain into the Burlington area with a rezoning request that came before the city’s planning commission on Monday.
During that evening’s meeting, Roeske explained that he has found a suitable site for his second franchise at 3832 University Drive, where a long-vacant parcel sits half concealed by a strip center at University Drive’s juncture with Rural Retreat Road.
This 4.12-acre lot was previously purchased by the Lidl grocery chain in 2017 in order to serve as a potential location for a new supermarket to serve the west side of Burlington. Lidl has since built this new store along South Church Street, making its acquisition along University Drive largely superfluous. Roeske acknowledged as much when he presented his own plans for the property to the city’s planning commission.
“Lidl has no interest in developing their parcel,” he declared. “So, we are trying to purchase [it] from them and rezone it to allow for our standalone restaurant with drive-thru and parking.”
Mike Wilen, a realtor who accompanied Roeske on Monday, conceded that the parcel’s existing zoning isn’t conducive to much of anything other than Lidl’s now-defunct proposal.
“The only thing that this property can currently be used for is a Lidl grocery store. It’s site specific,” he explained. “So, we added some additional conditions to fit in what we think this town is planning for this [area].”
Wilen’s description of his client’s rezoning request may have been a bit of an understatement. In fact, this “limited-use” proposal calls for a grand total of 37 possible projects. These items include commercial uses ranging from a restaurant, a café, or a bar to a nail salon, a fitness center, an event venue, or even a veterinary clinic. Roeske’s request also proposes some institutional uses such as a park or a childcare center; industrial ventures like research and development; and residential uses including multifamily apartments or second-floor dwellings above commercial storefronts.
Despite the broad range of these requested activities, the city’s planning commission was generally well disposed to Roeske’s plans for this already commercialized section of University Drive. In the end, Joan Zec Nelson, cast the only dissent in the group’s 4-to-1 vote to recommend the request to Burlington’s city council.
The commission’s members weren’t as amendable, however, to a similarly sweeping “limited use” request that Chellappa Yasin, the proprietor of Taaza’s Indian Bisto on South Church Street, has submitted for a .94-acre parcel at 2632 Maple Avenue.
Jeff Deal, a realtor with Massey Real Estate, ultimately presented this request on Yasin’s behalf when it came up on the planning commission’s agenda on Monday. According to Deal, his client has plans to set up an undifferentiated retail center in this location, which sits at the confluence of a long-standing residential area and a commercial district that has gradually grown up along Maple Avenue.
Deal explained that, like Roeske’s proposal, Yasin’s request is of the so-called “limited use” variety – which, in this case, extends to 39 potential options. These prospective uses include multifamily dwellings; a broadcast studio or a childcare center; a cafe, a bar, or restaurant; a bed and breakfast; a medial office; a microbrewery; a commercial laundry; a convenience store without any gas pumps; a pet groomer; and even a farmer’s market.
Deal also informed the commission that, shortly before his appearance on Monday, a neighboring homeowner had clued him into some restrictive covenants that date back to 1956 and apparently prohibit anything other than a single-family home from going up on this land.
Deal stressed that these privately-negotiated restrictions have no bearing on the property’s zoning and lie completely outside the purview of Burlington’s municipal government. He nevertheless said that his client will still have to contend with these covenants if she decides to purchase the property and get it rezoned by the city. Deal added that he hopes the property’s neighbors will be amendable to lifting the covenants should these things come to pass.
“Times have changed since 1956,” the realtor added. “At that time, I’m pretty sure I-85 didn’t exist…Now, it isn’t ideal for most folks as a bucolic residential setting.”
In addition to Deal’s remarks, the planning commission heard from Rodney Hewitt, a long-time resident of this area who identified himself as the neighbor who had tipped off the realtor about the restrictive covenant.
Hewitt told the commission that he dealt with the same problem himself when he sold off a nearby home he inherited to Dunkin’ Donuts, which has since built a drive-thru in this location at the southeast corner of Maple Avenue and Hanford Road. Even so, he expressed some misgivings about the broad spectrum of uses stipulated in Yasin’s rezoning request.
“I think the neighbors would be okay with some of the things that would be approved on that property,” he added. “But a lot of those things really wouldn’t fit…I would ask that this not be approved until we know what’s going on the property.”
Hewitt’s objections were later echoed by another neighbor, Jerry Walker, who suggested that “maybe they should narrow the list down,” which Deal had presented.
The planning commission’s members were also a bit leery of the rezoning request. John Black, the commission’s chairman, observed that the property in question borders on residential parcels in several directions. Meanwhile, Richard Parker, one of the group’s more long-serving members, compared Yasin’s proposal to other instances where people wanted to extend commercial development into areas that had traditionally been zoned for residential uses.
“It reminds me of a zoning case years ago on Mebane Street.” Parker recalled, “There was a house there right at the edge of a commercial zone, and they wanted to go commercial, and the city council refused because they wanted the house to be the end of the line for commercial…So, I’m not in favor of this at all for that reason.”
Meanwhile, commission member Lee Roane observed that the subject property is situated quite close to a proposed roundabout that appears in a much-ballyhooed plan to spruce up the Maple Avenue corridor. The city’s planning staff stressed that this corridor plan is still so hypothetical that it shouldn’t impinge on the city’s zoning decisions.
But by then, the fate of Yasin’s submission was more or less sealed with the planning commission, which voted 5-to-0 not to endorse the request to Burlington’s city council.