City planners are recommending conditional approval of a Chick-fil-A restaurant that has drawn two rounds of opposition from residents in a North Jacksonville neighborhood.
The Jacksonville Planning and Development Department issued its recommendation ahead of a Planning Commission discussion on a rezoning request for the restaurant, proposed near Duval Station and Lady Lake roads near First Coast High School and the Publix-anchored and -owned Duval Station Centre.
The Planning Commission meeting is set for 1 p.m. Feb. 8 in the Lynwood Roberts meeting room at City Hall.
The staff recommendation comes a year after Folks Huxford, then chief of planning for the city, told residents at a neighborhood meeting in February 2023 that the department would recommend denying the rezoning request. Huxford later left the city and is now director of community development for Baker County.
Now, the staff is recommending approval with two conditions, calling for a traffic study and for the developer to submit an exterior lighting design plan and follow staff specifications on types, levels and materials for lights.
Asked for an explanation of the change in the staff recommendation, the city’s Public Affairs Office said: “We aren’t able to speak to what past planning department staff were considering at the time.”
Legislation for the rezoning, Ordinance 2023-0836, would allow the project to be built under planned unit development zoning.
Chick-fil-A unveiled its plan to build a restaurant with a two-lane drive-thru at the site in early 2023. The plan appeared to evaporate after neighbors organized in opposition of the project, with more than 100 of them gathering at the February 2023 meeting.
n December 2023, Chick-fil-A returned with a plan that appeared to be nearly identical to the previous version.
Neighbors once again rallied against the restaurant. More than 100 turned out to a neighborhood meeting Jan. 11, with dozens voicing concerns that the restaurant would block traffic in and out of the nearby North Creek subdivision, create traffic congestion around the site, threaten the safety of First Coast students and reduce property values.
Access to the restaurant is from Lady Lake Drive. Traffic would enter via the North Creek subdivision entrance on Bradley Cove Road or through the neighboring Publix Super Markets shopping center parking lot. There are several homes within a few hundred feet of the restaurant site.
Several residents attended a Jan. 23 City Council public hearing about the plan.
“How would you like your neighborhood to be the entrance to a Chick-fil-A?” North Creek resident Christine Brundage asked Council members.
Local attorney Robin Hood, who lives in the area, said more neighbors would turn out for a second round of the public hearing scheduled for Feb. 13.
The site was approved for a McDonald’s in 2015, but that restaurant was never built. Plans included an entrance from Duval Station Road and Bradley Cove Drive with fewer parking spaces and a smaller drive-thru than Chick-fil-A’s project.
Ramzy Bakkar of the Bakkar Group, who owns the property though RBSSSS LLC, told neighbors during the Jan. 11 neighborhood meeting that the McDonald’s site plan was no longer a good option for Chick-fil-A because of changing consumer habits after the COVID-19 pandemic.
“We use the drive-thrus more than ever now,” Bakkar said.
He said the McDonald’s site plan was approved for 14 vehicles. The new plan would accommodate 34, he said. Bakkar said the plan included expanded parking that would “keep everyone safe and contained on the property.”
Council member Reggie Gaffney Jr., whose district includes the restaurant site and North Creek neighborhood, has appeared at neighborhood meetings and obtained a deferral on the project in January to help residents to organize to speak out against the project.