Chick-fil-A’s proposal to build a restaurant on Ogletown Road cleared its first hurdle Thursday night, when the Newark Board of Adjustment granted the company four variances needed for the plan to move forward.

The company still needs to receive a special-use permit from city council before the restaurant can be built.

The project is slated for 410 Ogletown Road, the former home of Aetna Hose Hook and Ladder Company’s Station 8 and banquet hall. The station closed last year as part of the fire company’s plan to consolidate its operations and eventually build a new station somewhere else.

Chick-fil-A is proposing to tear down the fire station and replace it with a 5,100-square-foot, 94-seat restaurant, along with a two-lane drive-thru and a small outdoor seating area. The drive-thru will have two covered areas for placing orders and receiving food.

The main entrance and exit will be onto Ogletown Road, but the plans show a connection to the adjacent SpringHill Suites parking lot, which will allow Chick-fil-A customers to cut through the hotel property to enter or exit via Capitol Trail.

Chick-fil-A restaurants are known for drawing large crowds to their drive-thru. The eatery’s traffic jams have even prompted a lawsuit in Toledo, Ohio, where neighboring businesses filed suit last year, claiming the long lines are blocking access to the other establishments.

Plans for the Ogletown Road location show the company is trying to mitigate any traffic issues by locating the drive-thru lines at the back of the two-acre property. Unlike most drive-thrus that wrap around a restaurant, this one would start at the back of the property and form a U-shape that brings cars up to the back of the building.

“I think most of us are probably aware that Chick-fil-A is a very popular drive-thru restaurant,” said John Tracey, a lawyer for the project. “And because of that, it has continually tweaked the design to accommodate more cars in the drive-thru to avoid conflict with surrounding roads as well as the parking lot.”

He noted that the Delaware Department of Transportation is requiring Chick-fil-A to do a traffic study for the project, which is required for any development expected to generate 500 or more trips per day.

Tracey asked the board to grant variances allowing a lot width of 198 feet instead of the required 200 feet, a setback of 35 feet instead of 75 feet, the distance from adjacent properties of 34 feet instead of 50, and four signs instead of one.

“I think in the grand scheme of things, you’ll find they are relatively minor and/or they create improvements over what exists on the property today. They are for the most part driven by the nature of the deep and not wide shape the property currently possesses,” Tracey said.

Only two members of the public commented on the proposal. In letters submitted to the board, the manager of the SpringHill Suites expressed support for the Chick-fil-A, while a resident of the nearby Stafford neighborhood opposed it.

“The proposed business would have negative effects on my neighborhood in terms of driving safety, pedestrian and bicycle safety and air pollution from idling cars,” Donna Salek wrote.

The board approved the variances 4-1. The lone opposing vote came from board member and former councilman Mark Morehead.

Board member Chris Rogers noted that the board’s job is to consider the potential impacts of the variances, not the merits of the project as a whole.

“It’s the city council that will decide whether this property is appropriate for a drive-thru restaurant,” Rogers said.

The project will now move on to the planning commission and then city council.

Applicant attempts to avoid disclosing owner of property

Thursday’s hour-long board hearing was relatively routine until Morehead and Chick-fil-A representatives got into a debate over disclosing the owner of the property.

Aetna still owns the land but has been under contract to sell it to an undisclosed buyer since 2018.

Tracey avoided any mention of the buyer during his presentation, but Morehead pointedly asked about the buyer’s identity.

Tracey initially said Chick-fil-A was under contract to buy the land, but Chick-fil-A representative Clint Mattson corrected him, saying the company would be leasing the property from a landlord.

“Who is the ultimate owner going to be, can I ask?” Morehead said.

Tracey attempted to sidestep the question, but Mattson acknowledged the landlord will be 410 Ogletown Road LLC. He claimed to have no knowledge of who owns that LLC.

However, a state database – easily searchable by anyone with internet access – shows the LLC is registered to The Danneman Firm LLC, which is run by lawyer and developer George Danneman.

Danneman built the adjacent SpringHill Suites hotel and has a pending proposal for a five-story apartment building on Main Street.

He was in attendance at the board of adjustment meeting, which was held virtually, but he did not address the board and did not acknowledge his role when the ownership of the property was being discussed.

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