'Struggling' Buehler's asks city to allow Panera
Restaurant, pair of retail shops could pump up business, grocery store officials say
Delaware City Council is expected to vote Monday, Aug. 26, to approve or deny a Buehler's Fresh Foods rezoning request that grocery store officials say could lure a Panera Bread restaurant.
The grocery store has asked for the rezoning request so it can proceed with the construction of three commercial buildings that would sit on West Central Avenue in front of the store's existing location.
Becky Foster, Buehler's director of construction and maintenance, said the three buildings will be constructed as they are leased, starting with a corner lot already spoken for by Panera.
If the rezoning is approved, Foster said Panera has committed to bringing a development plan to the city's planning commission in hopes of opening a restaurant in spring 2014.
Because the Panera agreement includes terms that deter Buehler's from contracting with another restaurant, the other buildings will house retail shops, Foster said.
Foster said the expansion could bolster profits for the store that's seen a decline in shoppers over the last five years.
"We're struggling in Delaware," she said. "We want to stay in this community, but we've got to fight to stay in this community."
At council's Aug. 12 meeting, residents who spoke on the rezoning's second reading seemed to be largely in favor of bringing the restaurant to the city. But they also shared concerns about the traffic backups it could cause.
"We keeping OK'ing everything and building, but we don't ease the traffic," resident Mike Wells said.
A traffic study conducted by Traffic Engineering Inc. showed that between 10,000 and 13,000 cars travel in the area each day, with the peak times between 7 and 9 a.m. and 5 and 6 p.m.
Preliminary development plans show that work related to the three outlots could include completion of a sidewalk along West Central Avenue as well as the installation of a traffic signal and additional lanes.
Councilwoman Lisa Keller asked Foster if it would be possible to approve only the Panera space for now, because she shared concerns that the other properties weren't yet spoken for.
Foster said it's all or nothing, though, because Buehler's plans to spend $600,000 in site preparation that would pay off only if three buildings are constructed on the land.
"We really think this site will be so developable once we get Panera in there," Foster said.
Councilman Andrew Brush asked fellow council members to consider that, while it's always possible the expansion buildings could end up vacant someday, it's worth any risk to save the grocery store.
He said a large grocery-store building sitting empty would have just as much a negative impact on the surrounding community as the city's vacant strip malls.
"This is a tasteful, reasonable plan that will keep them competitive," he said before making a motion to suspend the rules to vote on the second reading of the plan.
Councilwoman Carolyn Kay Riggle seconded the motion, but Keller and Councilman Chris Jones asked her and Brush to reconsider.
"I think people need more time to get us their opinions," Keller said.
Both Riggle and Brush rescinded their motions to take the ordinance to a third and final reading, which will take place at the meeting Monday, Aug. 26.
Council will meet at 7 p.m. at City Hall, 70 N. Union St.