The Holly Springs City Council approved a fast food restaurant project last week, which will bring two drive-thru buildings and a mixed-use office building with a drive-thru window to Hickory Flat.

This development, consisting of five acres, will be located beside the Crest Brooke neighborhood and across from houses along White Columns Boulevard off of Georgia Highway 140.

The city council voted 3-1 to approve a rezoning for the development, with Councilman Jeff Wilbur the sole vote against it.. Councilwoman Karen Barnett was absent from the meeting.

Nearby residents living in Crest Brooke and along White Columns Boulevard have expressed various concerns about the project since it went to the city’s planning commission in April. The residents said they didn’t like the proposed development, citing worsening traffic and safety concerns that could come from it. They also said they didn’t want more fast food restaurants in Hickory Flat, and that lighting from the development would be a nuisance.

Phil and Marybeth Smith were among the residents who had safety concerns.

“In my opinion, the roads can’t handle the existing traffic, let alone the additional traffic that would be generated by this development,” Marybeth Smith said. “I think the widening of East Cherokee Drive and Stringer Road should be given priority before we move forward. We aren’t opposed to development, we just want projects to be well-planned and well thought out.”

To ease these concerns, Matt Coutu, developer with Wilson Development Group, told residents and council members May 3, based on a traffic study done by city officials, both right and left turn lanes into the development will be implemented upon approval by the Georgia Department of Transportation. He also said a left turn lane into White Columns Boulevard, located across the street from this development, could be an option as well if approved by GDOT.

Coutu said that, to help address the lighting concerns, there would be landscaping requirements to buffer the lighting.

Kevin Frazier, developing partner with Wilson Development Group, emphasized during Monday’s meeting that they are looking to add “fast casual” style restaurants, rather than just fast food. There are currently no tenants planned.

“We are looking at something along the lines of Chipotle or Starbucks,” he said. “The coronavirus pandemic has changed the way the food industry works day-to-day, and some businesses like Buffalo Wild Wings and Outback Steakhouse require takeout windows now. These types of users are what people have expressed they’d like to see here.”

Holly Springs Mayor Steven Miller suggested denying the request, saying he did not want to set a precedent of changing the prior zoning of this property, which was zoned neighborhood commercial four years ago.

“I am pro business and I understand the rezoning change, but this land was zoned a neighborhood commercial-type package before I took office,” he said. “I think we have to be consistent as a city with our zonings. It was put in place for a reason and residents in the area have a reasonable expectation for zonings to be maintained. We are setting a precedent here by turning around and changing the zoning four years later.”

Council member Dee Phillips said her concerns with the traffic situation were alleviated some with the proposal to add two turn lanes to the development, and a left turn lane into White Columns Boulevard.

“A drive-thru or pickup window wouldn’t have been my first choice, but the pandemic has changed the market need and dining habits,” Phillips said.

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Ethan is a reporter covering the cities of Holly Springs & Canton. He also covers city governments and lifestyle. He is a graduate of Kennesaw State University.

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