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Drive-Through Zoning Issue Generates Controversy Near Vacant Hartford Lot

Farmington Avenue Alliance
A vacant lot at Farmington and Girard Avenues in Hartford.
For two years, the future of the vacant lot at the corner of Farmington and Girard Avenues has been in dispute.

Will a McDonald's open in Hartford's West End? Not if neighbors and the city of Hartford have their way. 

For two years, the future of the vacant lot at the corner of Farmington and Girard Avenues has been in dispute.

In late 2012, the city of Hartford voted to change the zoning on the lot from B-3 to B-4 to disallow automobile-driven uses. The owners, Eliot Gersten and Phil Schonberger, sued the city on the grounds of improper notification for the zone change. A judge reversed the zoning change this summer.

In early fall, the owners came back to the city asking for a variance to permit a drive-through McDonald's on the lot. According to other new zoning regulations, a variance is needed to allow another drive-through restaurant within 300 feet of the existing drive-through. Also a variance is needed to permit this type of use abutting a residential district.

Neighborhood support for eliminating drive-through uses has been longstanding. Numerous plans -- the 2002 Farmington Avenue plan, the 2012 West End Civic Association's strategic plan, a 2012 Urban Land Institute study, and the city of Hartford's One City One Plan -- advocate for the walkability of the Farmington Avenue neighborhood commercial district. Allowing a drive-through use runs counter to the plans.

Credit farmingtonavenue.org
A rendering of a plan for Farmington Avenue developed in 2002.

This month, there will be two hearings that may decide the fate of McDonald's and future development of the vacant lot.

On December 9, at 5:00 pm, the City Planning and Zoning Commission will take another vote on re-zoning the six remaining B-3 lots on Farmington Avenue (five in the West End, one in Asylum Hill) from B-3 to B-4. A vote to re-zone would apply to future proposed land uses, not the current McDonald's plan. 

One week later, on December 16 at 7:00 pm, the Zoning Board of Appeals will consider two variances that would allow McDonald's to build a drive-thru. In a meeting with civic leaders in early 2014 McDonald's representatives said that they would not build a restaurant in the West End without a drive-through. They anticipate 60 cars an hour will use the drive up window. 

Each zoning meeting will be held on the first floor of 260 Constitution Plaza. Meetings are open to the public. The public will be able speak on the proposed zoning change as well as the zoning variances.

This report was originally published in The Farmington Avenue Wire, a newsletter of the Farmington Avenue AllianceDo you have a burning zoning or development issue where you live? Email digital editor Heather Brandon at hbrandon@cpbn.org.