Cane's: 'We screwed up'

Franchise group vows to pay for new trees, add landscaping at Clintonville site, more after perceived disregard for ravine


A whole team of people from Raising Cane's Ohio sought to make amends last week with Clintonville residents upset by the removal of trees over the Bill Moose Run, cleared to make room for one of the chicken-finger restaurants at 5132 N. High St.

It didn't take with at least two of the people who attended a community meeting convened by D Searcy, the Clintonville Area Commission's District 9 representative.

"We stumbled out of the gate on this one," said Jake Crocker, one of the partners in the currently 13-franchise Ohio operation of Raising Cane's.

He and other representatives of the company vowed to try to make things right.

They said they will work with members of Friends of the Ravines and Friends of the Lower Olentangy Watershed to come up with a landscaping scheme for the 14th restaurant. They also said they would provide the funding for the Moms Club of Clintonville to plant new trees in the ravine.

The Clintonville Raising Cane's will help raise money for Pets Without Parents, said Elizabeth Dennis, vice president of crew resources. In addition, Dennis said company personnel are working with the Clintonville Historical Society to include old photos of the neighborhood in the interior decor. A barber pole will be installed inside the restaurant to pay homage to the Longview Barber Shop, the oldest business in Clintonville.

All that cut no ice with north Clintonville resident Rich Fowler.

"Labradoodle rescues and things like that aren't going to help with foxes that have lost their homes," he said. "You have to focus on undoing what was done. We are concerned about nature."

Larry Gilbert, who said he lives a quarter-mile away from the proposed Raising Cane's, was just as blunt.

Restaurant officials, he said, showed "appalling irresponsibility."

"You didn't work with the community at all," Gilbert said. "I'm not really angry at the company, but I'm disappointed. You didn't break any laws. I don't think I'm ever going to eat at that restaurant.

"You raped the landscape, and now you're backpedaling and trying to fix it."

"We made a mistake, without a doubt, in not involving the community earlier," Crocker said. "We all make mistakes. We screwed up. Believe me, we're trying to do everything we can to move forward in a positive way."

Searcy opened the community meeting -- held Aug. 19 at North Community Lutheran Church -- by pointing out that the Raising Cane's land clearance in preparation for demolition of a home that now sits on the lot violated no city rules or regulations.

"Cane's did not violate the technical aspects of the law," she said.

No ordinances protect ravines; tree removal isn't regulated; and water that runs through pipes -- that stretch of Bill Moose Run is contained in a culvert -- isn't defined as a stream, Searcy said.

"Which means that every ravine in Columbus may be in danger and may be under attack," she said. "That really is the crux of what we have before us.

"I found that rather stunning."

Raising Cane's Ohio partners have been looking at the North High Street location for the last three years and were in contract to buy the site two years ago, Crocker said during his opening remarks. They opted to walk away instead, he said, because of the expense involved in grading the sloping lot and removing trees.

However, after building some other Raising Cane's in the Columbus area, "it just felt right" to have one in Clintonville, and the land was purchased from the Wesley Glen Retirement Community, Crocker told about 40 people on hand.

"We're not doing this for a three-, five-, 10-year play," Crocker said, adding that the goal is for the restaurant to be successful for decades to come.

Part of the reason crews preparing the site had to remove so many trees is the need to build two major retaining walls to deal with the flow of water on the site, said Amanda Zook, project manager for Raising Cane's. She added that 10 trees -- far more than the required four -- would be planted in the interior parking lot.

All of that amounts to so much "cold comfort," in the assessment of audience member Beth Kagel.

"Is there some way there could be a fundraiser Cane's could participate in to help with (Friends of the Lower Olentangy Watershed) as a small way of giving back?" she asked.

Kagel went on to suggest Raising Cane's employees also be called on to help with other projects in support of the environment, including occasional cleanups of the Adena Brook area.

"We're making that happen," Crocker said. "We're indeed going to do that."