Not long ago, Chick-fil-A was at the center of a community controversy.
Its drive-thru restaurant at 3707 State St. in Santa Barbara was Ground Zero for critics of the store’s traffic circulation and management. The popular restaurant was dangerous, they said, because cars queued up out onto State Street and blocked the sidewalk.
The problem got so bad that the city of Santa Barbara threatened to declare Chick-fil-A a public nuisance back in March.
Well, Chick-fil-A listened. And three months after the company almost lost its drive-thru privileges, it has bounced back, not only by fixing the problem, but with a grand expansion that will welcome even more diners.
“We believe the plans presented address all comments,” said Jennifer Daw, senior real estate representative for Chick-fil-A.
Monday’s meeting before the Santa Barbara Architectural Board of review was short and sweet, ending with a 6-0 vote for project design approval. Commissioner Dennis Whelan abstained because he missed the most recent meeting in May.
Chick-fil-A’s project involves creating three drive-thru lanes. The three lanes would merge into two, or motorists can drive past the line and park.
Chick-fil-A will remove vegetation and shift the lanes closer to the building. The driveway entrance is 32 feet and will expand to 42 feet. This would also involve moving handicapped parking spaces to the other side of the restaurant.
The new configuration was brought forward by a team of Orange County architects, led by the firm C.R.H.O. Architects. The plan is to remove 16 on-site parking spaces to make way for the pass through lane around the site. They plan to increase the number bike parking spots from two to eight.
Chick-fil-A, known for its thick, meaty chicken breasts and waffle fries, is a popular destination for locals, sometimes drawing up to 2,500 people a day. The restaurant replaced Burger King, which was not as popular and did not experience the same traffic congestion problems.
Decades ago, Santa Barbara banned all new drive-thru restaurants, so Chick-fil-A was facing the risk of losing its drive-thru permanently.
As soon as Santa Barbara threatened to declare the spot a public nuisance, Chick-fil-A quickly assembled a team of employees and contractors to manage traffic entering the site. The company resolved the problem and improved the flow of the cars.
Now, it’s rare to see cars backing out onto the street, even during peak hours.
At Monday’s ABR meeting, the protesters and loud voices were gone, and the item was approved in under 15 minutes. In fact, when Daw attempted to provide an overview of the project, board chair Kevin Moore cut her off and told her to focus only on the most recent changes.
Santa Barbara City Councilman Eric Friedman told Noozhawk after the meeting that he was pleased with the outcome.
“While the increased staffing and other temporary actions to address public safety impacts have led to a significant decrease in cars queued on State Street, a permanent solution has always been critical to addressing the on-going public safety issues that were regularly occurring at this location,” Friedman said.
“The approval of the new drive-thru lane, widening the driveway entrance to three lanes, and other site improvements will benefit pedestrians, bicyclists and vehicles traveling State Street in the long-term. I am pleased that these measures were approved and look forward to the plans being implemented as soon as possible.”