Planning Commission rejects Whittier Wendy’s

Neighborhood opposition to a corporate fast food restaurant dealt a major setback to a proposed Wendy’s Old Fashioned Hamburgers at East Franklin & Clinton avenues.

The City Planning Commission March 7 overwhelmingly rejected Wendy’s requests for a conditional-use permits for the Whittier restaurant and extended drive-through hours on the site of the old Franklin Street Bakery, 325-329 E. Franklin and 2015 Clinton.

Neighbors said Wendy’s plan would attract crime, increase traffic and detract from the area’s historic and residential character. They said it would hurt efforts to promote unique, family-owned ethnic restaurants. They said the corner lot needed a more substantial mixed-use, urban-friendly "gateway" development, not a small one-story restaurant mostly serving drive-through customers.

Wendy’s could appeal the Planning Commission decision to the City Council; company plans are unclear. Wendy’s representatives Rick Janssen and Bob Sorrell did not return phone calls.

The Planning Commission staff had recommended approving the restaurant’s conditional-use permits. Commissioner Mike Hohmann moved approval, but could not get a second.

The Whittier Alliance and neighboring Stevens Square Community Organization (SCCO) both wrote letters opposing the plan. Residents and activists registered more passionate complaints in public hearing testimony.

City Councilmember Dean Zimmermann (6th Ward), a Whittier resident, called the plan an "abomination." He said the city had spent millions of dollars to improve Franklin Avenue. The area was known for one-of-a-kind restaurants, and he didn’t want to bring in a corporate giant, he said.

Keith Covart, owner of the neighboring Electric Fetus, 2000 4th Ave. S., said the plan was out of character with the more residential neighborhood.

Whittier Alliance staffer Marian Biehn said fast food restaurants attract crime, and a new Wendy’s would tax already-thin police resources.

Whittier property owner Tom Berthiaume noted the Wendy’s seating area was approximately 350 square feet. "That is not a restaurant," he said. "That is a car wash."

Peter Roos, part of the Wendy’s development team, said the restaurant design would keep traffic off Clinton Avenue and headlight glare out of residences. He said the statistics opponents cited showing a large number of police calls were misleading, because Wendy’s employees report problems in their areas.

There is an "advantage to having an ongoing business there … having eyes on street traffic and working with law enforcement to make it a safer place," he said.

Letters supporting Wendy’s came from Clarke Goset, a real estate appraiser, Tom Roberts, owner of the Office Max shopping center at Lake Street & Nicollet Avenue; and Michael Cashill, owner of apartments at 600 E. Franklin Ave.

Cashill’s and Roberts’ letters used identical language, calling Wendy’s "a welcome addition and a positive contribution to the ongoing revitalization of this commercial corridor."

Hohmann said he was sympathetic with neighborhood complaints, but "when you have a property owner proposing something that is consistent with zoning, it is hard to say no."

In an unusual move, the Planning Commission approved the site plan, but rejected the conditional-use permits.

Commissioner Michael Krause led the opposition to the conditional-use permit, saying the business did not support good urban design, and the corner needed to have a stronger gateway presence.

In other action:

– The Commission continued until the March 28 meeting a series of requests from RMF Entities to modify the Urban Village development at 2809 Bryant and 2808, 2816 and 2824 Aldrich Ave. S. The applications seeks to increase the number of units in the Wedge neighborhood development from 112 to 125, as well as to obtain site plan approval and reduced north side setbacks.

– The Commission scaled back site plan improvements for Clausen’s Servicenter, 22 E. Franklin Ave. in Stevens Square. City staff recommended closing two curb cuts and extensive landscaping upgrades to comply with current codes. Joanie Clausen, the owner’s spouse, said the shop had been in business for 67 years. "Our longevity should be recognized and appreciated," she said. "These demands are too costly."

The Planning Commission approved closing one 1st Avenue curb cut and fewer landscaping improvements. Shop Manager Greg Swedlund said, "I don’t know if we are happy. We are satisfied. That is kind of how we wanted it to go."