WP leaders approve new Arby’s location, despite resident protests
by Rick Langenberg:
Woodland Park elected leaders have given a reluctant nod to plans for a new Arby’s Restaurant and drive-through at a downtown location currently occupied by the town’s prime steakhouse.
By a 5-1 vote, the city council approved a conditional use permit for the Arby’s location site at 407 E. Hwy. 24, but contended that the potential safety hazards must be monitored. “Students crossing the highway is going to be a problem,” said Mayor Dave Turley.
Councilman Ken Matthews cast the dissenting tally, saying the site just won’t work. “I am very concerned. I am not comfortable with the traffic situation.”
As a result, Woodland Park will soon get another fast-foot outlet, but will lose one of the town’s more well-known and classic, fine dining restaurants, the Tabequache Steakhouse. For the last decade, Tabequache, owned by Fred Brocklesby, has gained a niche for its use of Callicrate beef, quality meat that comes directly from American ranches and farms.
The council’s action followed a heated hearing, with several nearby residents crying foul over the new location for an Arby’s, contending that the city would be sentencing their neighborhood to traffic jams, noise pollution and safety hazards. “Start a savings account for your lawsuit,” yelled resident Jim White, one of a handful of citizens who spoke strongly against the project, following the council’s verdict.
Most of the residents didn’t oppose bringing an Arby’s into Woodland Park, but objected to this particular site and the access into the proposed restaurant and the drive-through. Moreover, the residents are worried about the extra noise and glare and the proposed parking arrangement. Also they see the location as a huge safety hazard. “This access is not good,” said long-time resident Ken Garlin of Spruce Street, who contended that the impacts for the neighborhood would be devastating. “We have never had a drive-through in 10 years…This is not a good access. This will create problems for Hwy. 24. If we accept minimal standards, you can expect minimum results.”
White further explained that based on the proposed plan, the town is bracing itself for a disaster. “We are kind of trapped in our own neighborhood. It is outrageous.”
Another resident also objected to the plans, accusing the city of selling out to an out-of-state owner, who has no vested interest in Woodland Park. He noted that Tabequache Steakhouse is a unique restaurant that honors a Native American Indian tribe. “This building already has a successful restaurant,” said the resident.
But Turley interrupted his presentation, noting that the council can’t get into choosing what types of businesses can come into town and occupy available buildings in commercial areas. This same concern regarding the town’s obsession with fast-food restaurants was voiced during a previous planning commission hearing.
But throughout their presentation, the Arby’s representatives, and architect David Langley, maintained that the location would work. They also downplayed the traffic impacts, saying that most visitors who frequent the restaurant wouldn’t use any of the side streets inside the neighborhood.
“I can’t make everyone feel good,” admitted Robert Kenny, a Black Forest-based traffic consultant, who studied the project for Arby’s. According to his analysis, the restaurant would be open 13 hours a day, and possibly generate traffic flow of 900 cars per day, with 50 cars coming and going during peak times. He cited statistics indicating that Arby’s restaurants typically attract about half of the customers of a McDonald’s, but exceed the business volume of a Subway. He estimated that the fast-food restaurant may hit the $1 million mark in annual business.
The council didn’t express any reservation about having an Arby’s, which formerly occupied the building now used by the Mangia Mangia Italian restaurant. However, they had problems with the traffic arrangement and specifically the parking and access layout.
Councilwoman Carrol Harvey even asked the Arby’s corporate representatives if they could ditch plans for a drive-through.
But the head Arby’s representative, Andy Benning of US Beef Corporation, said a drive-through is needed in order to make the project economically feasible. He also reassured the council that their company dealt with plenty of more challenging sites in converting current restaurants into Arby’s outlets with drive-through areas.
For a brief period, the council appeared that it might deny the project due to the safety concerns. “That road crossing is a big problem,” said Councilman Gary Brovetto, in citing concerns over the potential of students from Woodland Park High School accessing the restaurant. Harvey even wanted to restrict customers from entering one of the proposed entrances off Hwy. 24 to avoid clashes with drive-through traffic.
But Woodland Park Public Works Director Bill Alspach, made a pitch for the applicant. “We can monitor this,” said the public works director. “There are not a lot of alternatives. The traffic has been looked at and it meets these standards.”
And due to the fact that the site previously sported a Cruisers fast-food outlet, the council agreed the proposal didn’t represent a drastic change and met the conditional use criteria for the city.
The new Arby’s still has to undergo a few more technical hurdles before it can remodel the steakhouse and open for business.
According to Brocklesby, the Tabequache Steak House will remain open at least for another 30 days. The Tabequache owner, who has been leasing the building from an investment group, said he may look for another location for his steakhouse. With an improvement in the economy, he says his business has been steadily improving.