DECATUR — Development of a 10,400-square-foot shopping center anchored by Chipotle Mexican Grill has moved one step closer to fruition, despite objections from residents worried about its effect on their neighborhood.

The Decatur Plan Commission voted 5-2 to recommend rezoning of 1.6 acres near the intersection of West Ash Avenue and U.S. Business 51 for commercial use. The matter now heads to the Decatur City Council for consideration at a future meeting. City officials say the plan will likely come up during one of its January meetings.

The commission's decision came after nearly two hours of discussion, during which representatives from Deerfield-based developer GMX Real Estate, LLC and opponents to the plan made their case.

Comments made during Thursday’s meeting were similar to those at a public hearing on Nov. 27, where residents spent more than an hour raising concerns about the increased traffic such a development would bring and the effect of the businesses on their property values and quality of life.

As proposed, the shopping center would have space for two restaurants, two retailers and 82 parking spots. According to the developer's presentation to the commission, the center would create between 15 to 30 full-time jobs. The plan is for all businesses at the center to be open by the end of next year.

Jeff Forbes, whose parents live one house over from the planned development site, said the existing infrastructure is already an issue for residents without the addition of restaurants and retail next door.

CLAY JACKSON, HERALD & REVIEW
Jeff Forbes expresses opposition to rezoning the corner of U.S. Business 51 and West Ash Avenue during the Decatur Plan Commission meeting Thursday. 

He also doubted the developers' claim that the shopping center would bring in $3 million to $4.5 annually in sales revenue. Forbes said he thought Chipotle would just spread out an already dwindling amount of disposable income available in the area, given the number of restaurants near the site and Decatur's general economic situation.

“The negatives are more than the positives,” Forbes said.

Others asked why the city and the developers could not work together and find a separate location for the business.

Speaking after the meeting, GMX Co-Manager Andrew Goodman said Chipotle officials have not told them of any other possible locations they would consider in Decatur, nor whether they would be interested in looking at other Decatur locations.

While he said he was sympathetic to the concerns raised by residents, Goodman said the location planned for rezoning is too good for many businesses to want to pass up.

CLAY JACKSON, HERALD & REVIEW
GMX Real Estate Group LLC, Co- Manager Andrew Goodman addresses the Decatur Plan Commission on Thursday about the developer's plan to build a shopping center on the north side of Decatur. 

“Traffic is a double-edged sword. It causes the concerns that you heard here (at the meeting),” he said. “On the flip side, traffic is what drives retailers and restaurants to want to locate there.”

For developers, the site is highly attractive because of its high traffic count and location near other retail. Walgreen’s, Panera, Walmart and other businesses are across the highway.

But on the west side of U.S. Business 51 are well-established neighborhoods, many with residents who have lived there for decades and say they do not want the area disrupted by more retail, and the traffic it brings.

Commissioners Bill Clevenger, Bruce Jeffery, Susie Peck, Kent Newton and Terry Smith voted to recommend approval for the rezoning, while commissioners Bruce Frantz and Jack Myatt voted against it. Commissioners Mike Peoples and G.E. Livingston were not in attendance.

A commission recommendation does not always mean the council will go ahead with the plan, as the commission recommended approval for the rezoning of the same site in 2015 for the construction of an Aldi. The city council later rejected that rezoning plan.

Deputy City Manager Billy Tyus said Thursday that he wanted to emphasize that the city was not involved in the negotiations or creation of this proposal, although city staff has talked about possible locations with GMX and other developers who want to move into the city. 

“This has been a private transaction between the development company and the property owners for where this development will be located,” he said. “Ultimately, the developers have chosen the site, and (the city) is asked to make a land use decision related to it.”

Chipotle is the only business currently confirmed for the site, Goodman said. He added that discussions are ongoing with other family-friendly businesses, but declined to identify those potential tenants. 

According to a letter sent to the city signed by Goodman, the developers will make a commitment to hire local subcontractors for construction of the project. Both Tyus and Goodman said Thursday that no taxes breaks have been offered to the developers, nor have the developers asked for any incentives on the project.

“We’re proposing to invest a lot of money into this, and it’s going to be our own money,” Goodman said.

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