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'Five Guys' Deep-Sixed by Town Zoning Commission

Five Guys Burgers and Fries' attempt to open in a retail development anchored by Whole Foods was rejected by the Town Plan and Zoning Commission on Tuesday night

Five Guys Burgers and Fries could have used some of its fanatical followers on the Town Plan and Zoning Commission Tuesday night.

The commission, on a 5-2 vote, rejected the popular restaurant chain's attempt to open in a retail development on Grasmere Avenue in Fairfield that's anchored by a new Whole Foods Market.

Five Guys was short 13 parking spaces for its proposed restaurant, and some commission members who visited Whole Foods over the weekend said the parking lot was packed, and they didn't want to create a shortage of parking spaces by approving Five Guys.

Other commission members said Whole Foods was still a novelty in Fairfield and that the huge crowds may diminish as time wears on.

Matthew Wagner, a commission member who voted in favor of Five Guys, noted that the owner of the 10.5-acre development by Grasmere Avenue and Kings Highway East lost parking spaces by creating a "shared access" with The Home Depot and that the shared access wasn't a requirement.

"They didn't have to create that shared access and they had a sufficient number of parking spaces" for Five Guys, Wagner said. "Technically speaking, they didn't have to do it that way, and they would have had a tremendous overflow of parking."

"This is 13 spaces, representing a few percentage of overall parking on the site. I don't think we should be short-sighted here," Wagner said.

James Kennelly, a commission member who also voted for Five Guys, indicated it was contradictory for the commission to encourage shared access with an adjoining property owner and then punish a property owner for creating it.

But Richard Jacobs, a commission member, said town officials were told the "King's Crossing" development would have "high-end" retail tenants in the building that wasn't to be occupied by Whole Foods or CVS. That one-story building, at 22,772 square feet, now has Chipotle Restaurant, Chase Bank and PETCO as identified potential tenants. Whole Foods is in a 48,346-square-foot building and CVS is to occupy a 14,845-square-foot building.

Marco Valera, a commission member, said he thought adding Five Guys to a building that already was to include Chipotle, created "too much dining of the type that increases traffic."

Assistant Town Planner James Wendt said 50 spaces in the development weren't yet available due to work on the building that will house CVS.

Douglas Soutar, a commission member, said the Town Plan and Zoning Commission could deny Five Guys as a tenant and wait three to six months to see whether traffic generated by the new Whole Foods diminished.

But the commission ultimately decided to deny Five Guys, with Valera, Soutar, Jacobs and commission members Deborah Owens and Seth Baratz voting in opposition and Wagner and Kennelly voting in favor.

If Summit Development of Norwalk is intent on having Five Guys in the development, they could seek a waiver of 13 parking spaces from the town's Zoning Board of Appeals, according to Wendt's response to a question from Kennelly.

Five Guys, which has nearby restaurants on the Post Road East in Westport and on Westport Avenue in Norwalk, already was advertising on its website an upcoming restaurant in the "King's Crossing" development anchored by Whole Foods.

Five Guys first opened in Arlington, Va. in 1986 and now has more than 750 restaurants in more than 40 states and four Canadian provinces, according to the zoning application.

CAB June 15, 2011 at 10:49 AM
I agree with you Brian. Do they really think that Whole Foods is going to stay as packed as it is now. Of course, the crowds will die down once the novelty wears off. Planning and Zoning should be called Banking and More Banking!!
John Adams June 15, 2011 at 11:21 AM
I totally agree. Let's open 2 MORE banks there!! Yeah!! So ridiculous.. I've only heard from everyone that's been to a Five Guys that it's by far the best burger place in a long time. Nice going, commission. Really don't know what you're thinking here.. The traffic will absolutely die down.. Not everyone can afford to shop at Whole Foods, but many more can afford to eat at Five Guys! :-/
tonypct June 15, 2011 at 11:30 AM
What a joke. As a resident of Fairfield, it bothers me to no end how the TP&Z Commission, as well as many residents, automatically reject any chains coming into town, especially food chains. First it was Applebee's, now Five Guys. Remember the brouhaha over Borders coming to town? I swear there's elitism involved here. You can read Commission member Marco Valera's comment in many ways, when he says that adding Five Guys to a building that already includes Chipotle created "too much dining of the type that increases traffic." Hmmm.... I wonder what type of traffic he was referring to?
mb June 15, 2011 at 12:44 PM
Why would any retailer, high end or low end want to come to Fairfield? No one would want to deal with such ridiculous parking regulations. In my opinion, it seems that any business that might attract customers is unwelcome.
Stacey June 15, 2011 at 12:47 PM
Yet banks, CVS's, and nail salons never seem to have a problem
Fairfield Family since 1641 June 15, 2011 at 12:59 PM
TP&Z should be embarassed for their decision. "let's not support any more business in town" should be their new name, not Town Planning ans Zoning. 13 spaces??? Give me a break !!! Totaly rediculous. Good thing elections are coming up in November.
Robert Russo June 15, 2011 at 01:01 PM
I'm so pissed that I have to keep driving to Westport for my burgers...
Mandy June 15, 2011 at 01:25 PM
We want 5 Guys in Fairfield!!
Edgar J June 15, 2011 at 01:30 PM
I agree with Brian.....do they really think that the attendance during a Grand Opening will be constant through the year?? Crazy. Plus they just penalized the landlord for doing the right thing with shared access. Five Guys is good food, clean and popular.
Patricia L. Ritchie June 15, 2011 at 01:49 PM
Once again we have to deal with a rejection that makes no sense. This reminds me of the Applebees fiasco. Remember that one? Applebees gave up the fight and went elsewhere, even though there was plenty of parking, Joe's American across the street, fencing across the rear of the commercially zoned strip center, and another dining option for those who couldn't afford an upscale restaurant. There was the possibility, too, of jobs for some of our high school and college students. What a shame! Patricia L. Ritchie, President and CEO, Fairfield Chamber of Commerce
Dan M June 15, 2011 at 02:05 PM
Shake Shack opening on Westport/Southport border trumps this news for me...
Fairfield Resident June 15, 2011 at 02:55 PM
Maybe a Walgreens could occupy the space that Five Guys was going to be in.
tonypct June 15, 2011 at 03:14 PM
Patricia, what do you recommend we do to voice our displeasure at this move? And I certainly do remember the Applebee's fiasco. Between Applebees and now Five Guys, I truly believe there is a bit of elitism going on here by our TP&Z Commission. This is truly unfortunate.
tonypct June 15, 2011 at 03:15 PM
Fairfield Resident: LOL! But don't even think that! Our illustrious TP&Z may find it more feasible to have two drugstores in that plaza, even though they find two fast food restaurants untenable,
Nutster June 15, 2011 at 05:30 PM
That's a good idea, but it doesn't go far enough. The zoners should kick Chipotle out too and get Rite-Aid in there. Then we could have a CVS, Walgreens, and Rite-Aid all in the same place. It would be like paradise. Also, Petco stores are pretty big. I think if we kicked them out we could fit both Wells Fargo and Bank of America branches in that space.
Wally June 15, 2011 at 05:47 PM
This is idiotic and short sighted. I expect nothing less from tp&z. When people realize they can't afford to continually shop at whole foods there will be a dip. Good work.
R. Ludlowe June 15, 2011 at 06:32 PM
...maybe Five Guys should have proposed a bussing solution where people could park at the new train station, catch a bus to Five Guys, get their food, and go back again. What else are those extra busses from Option E going to do all day?
Nick June 15, 2011 at 07:21 PM
This is a perfect example of how town governments like ours here in Fairfield, for the most part, are filled with people who are completely out of touch and have no clue as to the consequences of their decisions. Time and time again we hear and read about what seem to be completely illogical and ridiculous decisions. They usually claim to just be following the rules and try to make things seem "Black and White", but it is their job to make changes and exceptions when they make sense. If more of the people in elected positions here in town handled their job as if they were actually working for the best interest of us citizens that elected them then we wouldn't be faced with the consequences of what I believe to be a completely near sighted and uneducated decision. How can we expect businesses like 5 Guys, who would inevitably draw people to Fairfield from surrounding towns to spend money here in town, to want to set up shop here? I applaud the two members of the TP&Z for their well thought and logical comments when speaking of this case. It is a shame that the other members could not see the big picture here and realize that their decision here will have long lasting consequences. I hope that the landlord files an appeal and that people in town, no matter if they will eat at 5 Guys or not, come out to voice their disappointment with this decision.
Nick June 15, 2011 at 07:28 PM
I am not an engineer, but it does seem that the parking lot could have been laid out in a way to create more parking spots. However, for TP&Z members to say that Whole Foods "Didn't have to have a shared access" when we all know they actively encourage it is a prime example of how these people constantly speak and make decisions prior to giving them some serious thought. I personally think the shared access is very aesthetically pleasing and upscale, especially since most if not all the stonework was made from materials taken from the site itself. I am one who shops and will continue to shop at Whole foods. What we should be asking is if they really need to have so many spots reserved for "Vanpools" and "Fuel Efficient" vehicles??? I think, based on whole Foods "Green" mission, it is a great idea to have a few of each. That being said, I think that the TP&Z should have looked at all of those empty spaces before making some of their comments. While Whole Foods is also required to have a certain amount of spots it sure seems to me that maybe those constantly empty spots should have been given some consideration when saying "The parking lot is always full."
Melioro June 15, 2011 at 08:44 PM
Just to add a little more to this, remember that the big fight with Applebees was because of the neighbors. My personal opinion is that they were right, and I ma happy we don't have an Applebees. That being said, I understand others feel differently. However, the TP&Z was really guided and pushed by a very strong neighborhood resistance.
Melioro June 15, 2011 at 08:53 PM
Nick, As a matter of clarification, the vanpools and electric charging stations, etc are because WF is looking to have their building LEED certified. These are requirements of LEED. I doubt they will be used, and not everyone agrees (including me) of how people put together their points for LEED certification, but it is what it is. In General, I commend the P&Z for considering the traffic issue. Just as many people here are convinced traffic will die down eventually, just as many people are convinced it won't. I believe that Nick makes a good point about the site layout, but it can go further. In reality, there is really just one way out of the parking lot. Whether you are going to any of the stores, you HAVE to drive by WF and go out at HD or the side street. It is a major bottleneck. Had there been a second exit closer to CVS the site would work much better. Having WF, two fast food restaurants, and a CVS would make that place a traffic jam all day long. As much as I hate banks (and if left to continue their reproduction will kill downtown), they create very little traffic. (PS Fairfield SHOULD regulate the quantity of banks) . Maybe the best thing is to finish construction, reasses the traffic from WF in a month or two, and THEN try to get 5guys in there. Then we will all know whether traffic is, or is not an issue. Until then, it is guessing on all sides.
James McCusker June 15, 2011 at 09:40 PM
Two things- they say they want "high-end" establishments in that space but I don't think a view of the Home Depot or train tracks would be the ideal location for a high end dining establishment. Also, they complain about parking- have you seen the available parking at the Westport Five Guys on the Post Road?! It's awful, anything at this location would be ten times better. I applaud the two TP&Z members who voted in favor, I don't know what the others were thinking.
Edgar J June 16, 2011 at 01:04 AM
Nick, get a clue and stop complaining about residents that step up to serve the town. How about you run for office? How about you sit down with the P&Z, and let them know how you feel? Be solution oriented or your credibility is zero.
John Adams June 16, 2011 at 03:40 AM
Bridgeport is the Park City, Fairfield is now the Bank City.. :(
Nick June 16, 2011 at 11:22 AM
Hey Edgar, I fully plan on doing exactly what you recommend and start the process of getting involved with town government as well as backing and supporting the campaigns of certain people to hopefully put a new group of candidates into many elected positions in town. Unlike the last election where people were replaced purely on disgust and on a partisan basis, hopefully this time we can get rid of some of the dead weight that is stuck in the past and replace them with a new group that has some more business experience. No one is downplaying the fact that town officials step up and give their time, that is not the issue. I won't comment on the "get a clue" part though. :)
J June 16, 2011 at 02:13 PM
Hold on... since when is Petco and Chipolte "high-end"? Chipolte is nothing more than a mexican version of Subway. The novelty will wear off of Whole Foods eventually. With Malloy's tax increases, retroactive even, there will be many people having to settle with Stop & Shop.
J June 16, 2011 at 02:18 PM
Please don't forget the hooka lounges that attract underage kids until all hours of the night. They hang out on the streets and think the hooka is better for them than cigarettes when in fact it's just as bad. These places are allowed to open even though it's against the law to smoke inside commercial buildings. Somehow the TP&Z thinks these establishments are good for Fairfield even though communities now are trying to get rid of them.
Melioro June 16, 2011 at 02:34 PM
J I had heard somewhere that zoning wanted to do something about that, but it could have been rumor. It actually may be a moot point as the state is looking at banning them. Google, "an act concerning state oversight of hookah lounges Connecticut"
J June 16, 2011 at 02:42 PM
Thanks, I'll check it out.
bertorama June 20, 2011 at 06:17 PM
Five Guys should install a couple ATMs and classify themselves as a bank. They'd be approved before sundown.

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