Council approves Taco Bell Cantina, Secret Garten, Hoffman Town Center phase at public hearing

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Council approves Taco Bell Cantina, Secret Garten, Hoffman Town Center phase at public hearing
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By Alexa Epitropoulos | [email protected]

City council approved phases of a mixed-use development at Hoffman Town Center and three new restaurants, including a Taco Bell Cantina in Old Town, at its public hearing Saturday.

Council approved blocks four and five of the Hoffman Town Center redevelopment at 2410 and 2460 Mill Road, which will include both residential and commercial development with grocery store Wegman’s on the second floor and 15 to 20 retail spaces on the ground floor.

Mayor Allison Silberberg and Councilor Paul Smedberg urged attention to detail in the development’s design stage, which developer StoneBridgeCarras’ principal Doug Firstenberg said is ongoing. Silberberg brought up the mixed-use development Bethesda Row as an example to be followed.

“We want to make sure that the attention to detail and the aesthetics are appealing because we want this to be extremely successful and attractive,” Silberberg said.

Firstenberg said StoneBridgeCarras was dedicated to creating a sense of space with Hoffman Town Center.

“When you come up Swamp Fox [Road], you’ll be drawn to the site and, as you get there, the fine details will become more and more exciting. That’s how you make a place,” Firstenberg said. “… As it gets built and as it gets leased, it will continue to have more vibrancy and more excitement and more reasons for people to be there.”

Councilors John Chapman and Willie Bailey inquired about the potential for affordable housing units to be included in the development. Firstenberg and city officials said, while that’s still a remote possibility, it’s no longer as feasible to StonebridgeCarras as paying a $3.4 million voluntary affordable housing contribution to the city.

“I don’t think it’s very viable. We made it clear that we needed to know what’s going to happen. We had to design our building and construct our building knowing what’s going on. A lot of costs incurred, so that if suddenly the city came back and said we had to do an affordable housing building, our project could be in jeopardy,” Firstenberg said.

Smedberg posited that, in some cases, accepting a voluntary contribution is better for the city’s affordable housing trajectory.

“Putting everything aside, there are times when taking a voluntary contribution is a far better scenario because we can use that money to leverage in other places where it is more affordable and is more viable, and we can get more value and more significant increases, as opposed to five units,” he said.

 Council approved the development phases by a 6-1 vote, with Bailey dissenting.

Consideration of a beer garden at 3480 Mt. Vernon Ave. and a Taco Bell Cantina at 417 King St. were among the meeting’s most contentious issues, with the planned Taco Bell Cantina attracting a number of speakers.

Taco Bell Cantina, a fast casual restaurant concept from Taco Bell that also features the on-premises sale of beer, wine and mixed drinks, is planned for 2,195 square feet on the first floor of Tavern Square, fronting on the 400 block of King Street. The applicant proposed 52 indoor seats and 20 outdoor seats on King Street and proposed hours of 7 a.m. to 2 a.m. Monday through Sunday and proposed outdoor hours of 7 a.m. to 1 a.m.

One speaker, Katy Cannady, said the restaurant would not fit into the overall character of King Street.

“Where is the thought process behind allowing a Taco Bell open in the heart of Old Town, and not just any Taco Bell, but a Taco Bell Cantina, serving patrons until 2 a.m.? It’s unique alright, but not in a good way,” Cannady said at the meeting. “The city spends considerable money for economic development. We have an entire city staff devoted to it. Surely, they could come up with more desirable eating establishment to occupy prime space on King Street.”

Other speakers said the Taco Bell Cantina’s proposed outdoor operating hours were incongruous with other restaurants in the area.

Yvonne Callahan, who represented the Old Town Civic Association at the meeting, said she didn’t object to the restaurant itself, but, instead, the closing hour creep in Old Town outdoor dining.

“You’ve been consistent with an 11 p.m. outdoor dining closure and this just goes way beyond that. You can go into Taco Bell at 1:59 p.m., order a couple pitchers of beer and stay there for another hour until 3 a.m.,” Callahan said. “… I think you’ve got to really start applying some consistency here. You have this hour creep that we seem to be seeing now.”

After concerns about consistency were brought up by Silberberg and Smedberg, applicant representative Cathy Puskar agreed to alter the outdoor dining hours to an 11 p.m. closure as part of the special use permit. The proposed indoor dining hours will remain the same. Council approved the proposal unanimously.

Council also considered a proposed beer garden at 3480 Mt. Vernon Ave., tentatively called the Secret Garten. The restaurant and beer garden is proposed for a 1,267-squarefoot space in a Mt. Vernon Avenue shopping center.

Applicant Abe Hadjismaieloo, plans to convert his restaurant, Senor Chicken, into a beer-centric concept with 30 indoor and 30 outdoor seats and proposed indoor operating hours of 11 a.m. to 2 a.m. daily, 11 a.m. to 9 p.m. from Sunday to Thursday and 11 a.m. to 10 p.m. Saturday through Friday.

Hadjismaieloo also requested off-premises alcohol sales for bottled beer and growlers in his application. Residents of the neighborhood located behind the proposed beer garden expressed concerns about the proposal.

“The issues with the shopping center have been well-documented over the years. There’s been crime, loitering, vagrancy. It’s been the worst actor on the block. I moved in in 2011 and I can still attest things are the same,” Resident Al Havinga said at the meeting. “Why would you want to reward the property owner, when they haven’t cleaned up the site?”

Chris Kinard, another resident of the neighborhood, said the application wouldn’t improve the area.

 “It doesn’t fit the Del Ray or the Arlandria plans. It doesn’t show what’s planned to improve these areas,” Kinard said. “You’re not improving the streetscape, the walkability for pedestrians, the vibrancy of the area.”

Councilor Willie Bailey expressed concerns about the amount of parking available for the shopping center.

The shopping center has 46 parking spaces available in all. Ken Wire, counsel for Hadjismaieloo, said he had approached neighboring business owners about renting spaces from them, but hadn’t had success at securing spaces as of yet.

“He acknowledges that it’s tight out there, but they weren’t willing to [rent] it. He will be offering discounts on your bill if you don’t drive. He will discourage people from parking there because there’s no way around it – it’s pretty tight,” Wire said.

Council ultimately approved the proposal 5-1, with Silberberg dissenting and Vice Mayor Justin Wilson recusing himself from the vote because he owns an adjacent property.

Council also voted unanimously to approve a special use permit for Tandoori Nights, which plans to open on the second floor of 218 N. Lee St., the former site of La Bergerie.

Correction: The print version of this article misstated the council vote on Secret Garten as 6-0 when in reality it was 5-1, and also misstated the vote on Taco Bell Cantina, which was unanimous. 

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