DECATUR — Decatur City Council members are staying quiet on how they will vote on the contentious Chipotle rezoning proposal tonight.
History suggests that newcomers David Horn and Chuck Kuhle will be the difference between a Chipotle-anchored shopping center being located at U.S. Business 51 and West Ash Avenue, or the longtime residential neighborhood staying that way.
Neighbors are adamantly opposed to the proposal, which they say will increase traffic and hurt their property values and quality of life.
The proposal is similar to one considered in fall 2015, when the council weighed whether to allow an Aldi grocery store on the site. The council ultimately sided with the residents and voted 4-3 to reject that proposal.
Councilwoman Dana Ray and Mayor Julie Moore Wolfe voted to approve that proposal, while incumbent members Lisa Gregory, Pat McDaniel and Bill Faber voted against it.
Of those, only McDaniel has announced he will vote against the Chipotle proposal. In a statement released in December, McDaniel said the development would harm the neighborhood and that he preferred to keep the northern entrance to the city as visually appealing as possible.
Both Horn and Kuhle have said several times that they will not make their decision known until the council vote. They said they have heard from both proponents and opponents of the plan since it first became public late last year.
The project developers, Deerfield-based GMX Real Estate, LLC., are asking the council to rezone the 1.6-acre site from residential to a planned development, a type of zoning that allows for uses outlined in the specific plan.
Plans submitted to the city show a 10,400-square-foot commercial center. It would include two restaurants, two retail stores and a medical office, according to the documents, and have 82 parking spaces.
GMX representatives have said they were pointed to this site by Chipotle, the only tenant that has been identified. It would be a freestanding restaurant with a drive-through.
Entrances to the center would be off of West Oak Lane and West Ash Avenue.
Hours of operation would only be allowed from 6 a.m. to 11 p.m., city staff said in a memo to council members.
Six parking spaces on West Ash Avenue would be removed, a left turn lane into the shopping center would be added, and the bus stop would be moved. City staff said West Oak Lane would be strengthened, with curb and gutter added, to accommodate more traffic.
No tax incentives are being requested, and city officials said they have not offered any to the developer.
The intersection is in a residential area, across the highway from high-volume retail that includes Walmart, Walgreens and Panera.
About 250 to 300 vehicles travel each direction on Ash Avenue during the peak hour each day, which is 4:30 to 5:30 p.m., according to Decatur’s interim Public Works director Matt Newell. Average speeds are about 35 mph.
While neighbors have been vocal about how the development would impact them, the city council will have to weigh that with the city’s bleak financial picture.
The city is facing a $3.2 million deficit in the budget the council approved in December. Changes in state law accounted for some of the gap, but city leaders have said for years that stagnant sales tax revenue also presents a fiscal challenge.
GMX representatives estimated the site could yield $3 million to $4.5 million in annual sales, $20,000 to $30,000 in property tax revenue and 15 to 30 full-time jobs, according to documents provided to the council.
City staff have recommended approval of the proposal with some conditions. Raymond Lai, economic community development director, said that determination had nothing to do with revenue and the city did not analyze potential proceeds.