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After Months of Discussion, Bellevue Arby's to Remain Bellevue Arby's

After weeks and weeks of back and forth over how its new building should look, the Bellevue Arby's will still look like the Bellevue Arby's.

In April, Restaurant Management Group was asked to reevaluate their plans for a new building after city staff and the board of adjustments deemed those plans too surburban in style and out of compliance with Bellevue's 4-year old form based code, an effort to preserve historic character and to spread it throughout the city. Form based forbids drive-thrus except on conditional bases. Staff had requested that Arby's move its drive-thru to the back of the building, among other requests related to the structure's design and placement on the Donnerymeyer Drive lot where the fast-food chain has operated for decades.

On Tuesday, Restaurant Management returned to Bellevue with two alternatives, both meeting the requests made by the city and the board, though one was more attractive to both parties than the other.

Site Plan B, as described by city zoning administrator John Yung, would move the new building to the opposite corner of the site, eliminate all but one curb cut, place the drive-thru in the rear, angle the sidewalk, and maintain a street screen along the property's street-facing front.

"This would achieve a complied building and drive-thru configuration under form-based code," Yung said. He recommended that the board approve the plan which, at the meeting's end, it did.

However, in the hour between the recommendation and the eventual approval, it became clear that Arby's never had any intention of adopting the plan.

"For us, both alternatives A and B have significant liability issues," said Grant Troja, president of Restaurant Management Group which operates dozens of Arby's across the Ohio Valley. He said that the franchisor wrote a letter saying that he would not accept either alternative site plan. "We tried to look at ways to build a new structure. I guess if you want us to build a new building, it will have to be from our original plans."

Troja said that the Plan B "poses a lot of serious challenges", including the placement of parking away from the building that would require dine-in customers to walk across the drive-thru lane and a too-narrow area for its 18-wheeler delivery trucks to service the location. Additionally, he said that after meeting with representatives from Duke Energy, that the utility company said that multiple utility poles would have to be moved from the spot where Arby's sits all the way to I-471. "That's a substantial expense for us," Troja said.

Troja shared the letter from the franchisor. "...(N)either one of these site plan layouts is an acceptable layout for an Arby's fast food restaurant with drive-thru service," wrote Paul Quinn, senior director of construction at Arby's Restaurant Group in Strongville, Ohio. Quinn's concerns included dead-end parking affecting traffic flow, an effect on street traffic due to placement of the drive-thru, and the requirement of pedestrians to cross through the drive-thru lane.

"Think of families, young children running into or out of the restaurant, or a customer in a wheel chair that has to cross through the drive-thru lane," Quinn wrote.

Board member Ryan Salzman said that cars in the drive-thru lane are mostly sitting idle. "That's something I feel is dramatically missed in your safety concerns," he said. Board member Jeff Sharp pointed out that the nearby McDonald's also has pedestrians walking through the drive-thru lane to access the building.

It was also acknowledged on Tuesday that no one from Arby's participated in the city's lengthy form based code discussions preceding its adoption in 2010 but that Duke Energy did. Duke's issues in the area around Arby's would have been addressed then, Yung said.

"I think your franchisor could maybe make some concessions," Sharp said after the board approved Site Plan B. "Our point is here, we don't want a cookie cutter off-the-highway-exit Arby's sitting there. I understand the cost to build and engineer and I really want to see you guys stay there. You've been a great asset in Bellevue."

"The costs of trying to do that are very significant. It was much easier to paint and do some new furniture," Troja said. "I think we're going to stay where we are."

Written by Michael Monks, editor & publisher of The River City News

Photo: Zoning administrator John Yung (left) talks about the site plans as Grant Troja (standing) looks on and Mayor Ed Riehl (foreground) listens. Board of adjustment members (from left to right) Jeff Sharp, Ralph Meyer, and Ryan Salzman are in the background./RCN