December 4, 2013

Jimmy John’s wins round one with Kansas City Council over drive-through

A proposal to stop a Jimmy John’s drive-through on Broadway in downtown Kansas City failed on a 2-2 vote at a Kansas City Council committee meeting, but a key sponsor of the proposed moratorium on downtown drive-throughs may try to bring it up at a future meeting.

A proposed Jimmy John’s drive-through in downtown Kansas City drew both fierce supporters and opponents Wednesday as a City Council committee considered a temporary moratorium on such projects.

A measure to stop the drive-through at 923 Broadway failed on a 2-2 vote before the City Council’s Planning, Zoning and Economic Development Committee. But committee member Jim Glover, who sponsored the proposed moratorium, said he may bring it back for a council vote later this month.

So while Jimmy John’s won round one before the City Council, the plan for a drive-through remains in limbo. And it has sparked a passionate debate about how and whether such businesses fit with people’s vision for a resurgent downtown.

“What is the downtown we want to become?” asked Thomas Morefield, a member of the Downtown Neighborhood Association, which argues the drive-through conflicts with a walkable, mixed-use, historic downtown district.

Frank Sebree III, who owns the Majestic Restaurant just south of the proposed Jimmy John’s site, said he was never consulted before the building next to his was demolished to make way for the drive-through. He argued that longstanding neighbors should be included in such decisions.

Glover complained that the zoning never should have allowed the drive-through without more public scrutiny. He said the city adopted a Downtown Area Plan more than five years ago that recommended a zoning that would have required more review. But somehow that zoning never became city code. Glover said allowing this type of project now would be a thumb in the eye for all the people who worked on that plan.

But Jody Gondring, an attorney and mother of three small children, said drive-throughs are a major convenience for parents like her, and such retail businesses could add to a vibrant downtown.

“I feel uninvited to downtown,” she said.

Attorney Mike Burke, representing the Jimmy John’s owners, said it would be a huge injustice if the council tries to retroactively impose a new zoning on his clients. He said they bought the 923 Broadway building only after they were assured by city officials that the zoning allowed such a project. Denying the project now would have a “chilling effect” on anyone else who wants to invest in downtown, he said.

Burke also said critics aren’t giving the business a fair chance. He said it will be designed to have an “old-timey” appearance and will be busiest over the noon hour, not during the evening rush hour, when Broadway has bad traffic congestion.

Jimmy John’s co-owner Mark Abbott said he and his partners have already invested $600,000 in the project and denial now would put them in a horrible position with their lender. He said he and his partners have spent 10 years devoted to Kansas City and employ more than 100 people in five other Jimmy John’s locations.

“Our product is a good fit for that location” on Broadway, he said, adding that it’s the drive-through feature that makes it financially viable.

The committee split, with Glover and Councilwoman Melba Curls voting in favor of the moratorium. Council members Ed Ford and Scott Wagner voted no.

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