Swensons Drive-In continues to make inroads in central Ohio.
The Northland Community Council development committee approved variances March 27 for construction of a fourth central Ohio Swensons, this one at 5720 N. Hamilton Road near Gahanna, but not before bringing up concerns from neighbors about noise pollution and nose pollution.
"I don't think they necessarily objected to this as a hamburger joint ... although one woman said she didn't want a lot of smells," committee Chairman Dave Paul said.
In order to occupy the North Hamilton Road site, the Akron-based chain needed permission to operate a drive-in restaurant in a location currently zoned for fuel sales, the result of an aborted attempt at placing a Turkey Hill convenience store there in 2013. Swensons also sought permission for an increase in the number of parking spaces, from the 34 permitted based on the size of the building to 70.
"Each parking space is seating for us," said Ron Dee, vice president of real estate for Swensons.
He said the parking spaces are needed because the restaurant isn't really a restaurant in the traditional sense.
In fact, with no indoor tables and no outdoor seating, the drive-in isn't even an eating establishment under Columbus city code, according to attorney David Hodge, who also represented Swensons at the development committee hearing.
"We are a 100 percent drive-in restaurant," Dee told committee members, noting Swensons relies on curb servers taking orders and delivering food to drivers who eat in their vehicles or take it home.
"That's part of our special experience," Dee said. "It's a kitchen. It's simply a kitchen with some 1950s architecture wrapped around it."
In the end, according to Paul, committee members approved the variances sought by Dee and Hodge, but reduced the parking space request to 65 spaces and also sought to make the experience less "special" for those in nearby residences.
In the report issued by Paul on March 28, he said committee members asked that the "applicant work in good faith with neighboring property owners, including residential properties to the east and southeast, to address concerns about outdoor noise, headlight screening, speeding on private streets and hours of delivery/trash collection."
"Most of the dialogue actually involved the residents of the single-family homes to the east and southeast of the hamburger joint," Paul said. "I believe that these folks -- and not really to judge these arguments -- were also very vocal about the gas station that was planned there some years ago. I think they're just very concerned about intrusive issues, given their exposure to this particular site."
The other three Swensons in central Ohio are on Ikea Way east of Polaris Fashion Place in Columbus, Sawmill Road in northwest Columbus and Cemetery Road in Hilliard. The latter is approved, but has not been constructed.
Miller's Ale House
Also at the March 27 meeting, development committee members approved a graphics variance for a Miller's Ale House, to be located in the former Kobe Steakhouse at 3884 Morse Road. The chain, based in Orlando, Florida, already has a store on Olentangy River Road.
Stan Young of the DaNite Sign Co. represented Miller's Ale House in requesting more signs and larger ones than are permitted under the city's graphics code. In addition to one sign that would be 90 square feet in size as opposed to the permitted 41 square feet, Young said company officials wanted a sign pointing into the interior of the shopping plaza, as is the case for Hometown Buffet and Wendy's.
"It's very competitive," Young said. "All the businesses want all the graphics they can get."
Committee members went along with most of the requests, but did demand that a sign proposed for the south side of the building be removed.