DALTON, Ga. — If a developer needs more parking space to bring an Olive Garden restaurant to West Walnut Avenue, say residents of a nearby subdivision, he has property he can use along that street and shouldn't intrude into their neighborhood.
On Monday, Dalton attorney Daniel Laird told members of the Dalton-Whitfield Planning Commission that developer Naren Patel and his son Anish Govan plan to bring an Olive Garden to the former site of the O'Charley's restaurant at 1520 W. Walnut Ave., which is located near the interstate.
But Laird said Olive Garden requires 150 to 180 parking spaces, almost double what the site has. That's why Govan is requesting that the City of Dalton rezone 1.7 acres the father and son own at 108 Kinnier Court, in the Dickson Acres subdivision, to C-2 commercial from R-1 residential. The plan is to destroy the house on the site and turn it into a parking lot with about 80 spaces.
"That would be the final step for Olive Garden approval," Laird said.
Saying they didn't want to change the nature of a residential neighborhood, members of the Dalton-Whitfield Planning Commission voted 3-0 to recommend denying the rezoning request.
The City Council will make the final decision on the rezoning request and is expected to vote on the matter at one of its December meetings.
Ethan Calhoun, the planning director for the Northwest Georgia Regional Commission, which handles staff work for the Planning Commission, said the staff could recommend the rezoning if 20-foot buffers were placed along the site adjacent to all residential property.
Calhoun noted it is rare for commercial property to abut residential property without a buffer but that is the case for much of Walnut Avenue.
Jeff White spoke in favor of the rezoning, saying he believes a retention pond that would be built on the parking lot would ease longstanding flooding issues at his home, which is downstream. But he was the only resident of the neighborhood to speak in favor of the rezoning. The planning commission meeting room in the Wells Fargo Bank building in downtown Dalton was packed with residents who indicated by a show of hands they did not favor the rezoning.
Craig Poteet said that Patel owns a little over 7 acres on Walnut Avenue, including the properties on either side of the O'Charley's including the BP station to the west of the site.
"He should put his parking there," he said.
"If this is allowed, it will be a wedge into the community," said Drayton Sanders, chairman of the Dickson Acres homeowners association.
Several speakers said Patel has already bought other properties in the neighborhood and feared he would try to have them rezoned.
"I appreciate what (Patel) is trying to do," said commission member John Thomas before saying he could not support recommending the rezoning.
"This is a well-established residential neighborhood," said commission member Scott Delay.
Commissioner Mitch Sanford also voted to recommend against the rezoning.
Chairman Jim Lidderdale typically only votes in the event of a tie, and commission members Jodie McClurg and Tom Minor were absent.