After listening to extensive testimony from community representatives, the city’s Zoning Board of Adjustment made no decision on Wednesday with regard to a proposed fast-food restaurant in Roxborough.
Developers Anthony and Frank Giovannone hope to locate a 3,200 square foot Wendy’s restaurant at the intersection of Ridge and Roxborough avenues, on a site that was once home to a historic residence known as the Bunting House. The proposed Wendy’s would feature outdoor seating, parking for more than 30 vehicles and a drive-thru window.
Dozens of residents brought anti-Wendy’s signs to Wednesday’s hearing, but were advised by city officials before testimony not to wave them as the collective sound upset the proceedings.
While all available seats were occupied, those in attendance were subdued compared to November, when a capacity crowd filled the room as representatives of Wendy’s and the Giovannones testified before the ZBA.
At public Central Roxborough Civic Association meetings in March and October, an overwhelming majority of neighbors indicated some form of opposition to the plan, be it in regard to the restaurant itself or to the drive-thru.
Many of the same concerns raised then were again brought before the ZBA by a dozen residents: Diminished property values and safety concerns; loitering, litter, pollution and stench; dubious health benefits of fast food and the potential impact on a pedestrian-friendly commercial corridor.
The impact of added traffic to a heavily traveled Ridge Avenue and neighboring side streets, which is already known to experience heavy congestion at certain points of the day, was also reiterated.
About that traffic
Several residents who spoke noted that they performed their own ad hoc traffic surveys, which took into account the two SEPTA bus routes that make turns at the intersection of the envisioned restaurant.
“The neighborhood is not opposed to Wendy’s; it is opposed to the drive-thru,” said John Boyce, a vocal critic of the project who again ferried residents to the hearing on a rented school bus. “It’s a no go.”
This anecdotal evidence was reinforced by a study conducted by the CRCA.
As presented by CRCA board member Gordon Cohen, 164 respondents took part in the survey distributed to residents via leafleting and emails.
Of them, 154 neighbors – 94 percent – opposed the project.
According to Cohen, 47 residents commented on the survey that the project represented an “inappropriate use” of the site.
Representatives from Wendy’s pounded the pavement as well, with petitions being proffered both at local shopping centers and door-to-door over the course of two months.
Five binders containing the completed petitions were submitted to the ZBA by Carl Primavera, the developers’ attorney, with concerted efforts said to have been made in collect feedback from neighbors of the site.
No specific pro-or-con numbers were cited, but Primavera directed the ZBA’s attention to a map festooned with dots, each representing a resident in favor of the proposed restaurant.
“I know it’s not a popularity contest,” said Primavera, “but it shows some support of the project.”
Several Roxborough residents spoke out in favor of Wendy’s at the hearing, citing the accountability and stability a corporation would bring to the site, the positive impact on the Roxborough business district and the personal character of the Giovannone brothers.
Taxes and what’s next
Despite this, Hal Schirmer, a local attorney representing the CRCA, found the proposal wanting.
Noting that typical Wendy’s provides between $11,000 and $15,000 in tax revenue to the city, Schirmer offered that projected tax revenues for the site – $34,000 – were off by 100 percent.
In addition, Schirmer suggested that the size and scope envisioned by the relevant zoning guidelines was meant for mom-and-pop takeout restaurants, not a Wendy’s with a drive-thru.
The executive board of the Roxborough Development Corporation concurred, indicating that such an aperture was not appropriate to the neighborhood.
Recalling a $2 million grant from PennDOT to the RDC for sidewalk installations that would encourage a more pedestrian-friendly corridor – and the potential need for the proposed restaurant to carve drive-thru entrances into them – Schirmer remarked, “I couldn’t think of a better metaphor for this situation.”
At the hearing, the City Planning Commission voiced no opposition to the project. A decision is expected by the ZBA in the coming weeks.