Anne Riedman, a real estate investment broker who works in Golden Hill, said drive-throughs clash with the neighborhood's goal to create a pedestrian-oriented community. "Whenever you have a drive-through restaurant, it's certainly not easy to walk [near them]. We've worked very hard for years to improve the community. There's no reason to amend the plan for their profitability," said Riedman, who served on the Greater Golden Hill Community Planning Committee during the 1980s. "What I find interesting is ten years ago they said it was not financially feasible to not have a drive-through, and they've been operating there for ten years."
What baffles Kathryn Willetts is Tricon used to operate a Taco Bell restaurant with a drive-through several blocks away on Market Street. "Why would they give up that location where drive-throughs are allowed and pursue another where drive-throughs are prohibited?" asked Willetts, an architectural designer and real estate agent. "To me that's a complete disregard for the community's investment in itself," she said, noting that concerned Golden Hill residents such as herself spent many hours to help draft an ordinance that would improve the neighborhood's quality of life. "Perhaps Tricon wouldn't be interested in spending so much money if there weren't a ballpark. Perhaps other chains are waiting in the wings."
Tricon's proposal to modify Golden Hill's ban on drive-through facilities is carefully worded so only two other parcels along 25th Street might qualify for such development. And, says Rebecca Michael, a San Diego lawyer representing Tricon, one of those properties would be ineligible because it is too close to the other. But opponents, such as Ireland, Poppe, Riedman, and Willetts, say breaking the rules for Kentucky Fried Chicken sets a precedent for other chains and might make the city vulnerable to a lawsuit alleging discriminatory spot zoning. However, certain sections of La Jolla, Old Town, Pacific Beach, and San Diego heavily regulate drive-through service and fast-food establishments in piecemeal fashion.
"There's a tremendous upside from our perspective that's being overlooked," Martin said, noting the four-year quest to replace Golden Hill's Kentucky Fried Chicken may set a company record. In contrast, getting approval last year to rebuild Pacific Beach's KFC with drive-through amenities took four months, and the eatery is scheduled to open this spring. A new restaurant in Golden Hill would create 25 new jobs, which would most likely be staffed with neighborhood residents, Martin said. "There's an opportunity for more employment, above the minimum wage. There's the chance for revitalization, rebeautification. That's what we want here."
Harmon O. Nelson III, chief financial officer of Wieber-Nelson Design Inc., is among Golden Hill residents, business owners, and community volunteers who support Tricon. When the environmental graphic designer served as chairman of the Greater Golden Hill Community Planning Committee several years ago, he favored the Kentucky Fried Chicken drive-through, but the committee did not change the rules. "KFC bent over backwards to address every concern," Nelson said. The company agreed to limit the new restaurant's hours of operation, create outdoor seating, and remove the unsightly bucket towering overhead. More importantly, Nelson said, the company redesigned the building twice to make it more aesthetically pleasing and blend with some of the neighborhood's older structures. Luxton of Tricon estimated the company has spent about $30,000 on architectural plans and presentations, and that expense is expected to reach $60,000 before construction.
"It will make the property so much nicer," Nelson said. "We renovated this building in 1993, and we saw what a difference it made to fix up one building," he added, referring to his office, the purple Art Union Building at 2323 Broadway. From his perspective, extra traffic resulting from a drive-through eatery is insignificant compared with the thousands of baseball enthusiasts projected to drive through Golden Hill, Sherman Heights, and other neighborhoods. "It's just a few people who have tried to make the drive-through controversial. I think their energies should be focused more on the ballpark."
Golden Hill resident Russell Draper said he opposes both projects. "The baseball stadium is absolute insanity. The parking and traffic problems will be horrendous for Golden Hill," he said, recalling that the environmental impact report describes the possibility of three-hour traffic jams. "25th and Broadway is the heart of Golden Hill. Putting a drive-through there changes the character of the neighborhood. It just brings in extra traffic. It encourages people to idle in their cars. There are big battles and little battles. They're both important."
Like other owners of Mexican restaurants in Golden Hill, Francisco Diaz is not concerned about Tricon's plans to add Taco Bell to its Kentucky Fried Chicken outlet. "Taco Bell is imitation Mexican food," said Diaz, who owns Humberto's Taco Shop nearby. "They don't have the ambiance or the music. I don't really feel it's competition." However, Diaz said, allowing one business to add drive-through service doesn't seem fair. "I wish I had a drive-through. I would get 35 percent more business. A lot of people don't like to get out of their cars."