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Friday, Sept. 12, 2008

North Side Neighbors Oppose New Chicken Restaurant

Community gardeners want more healthy options

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Who knew that a proposed Church’s Chicken on busy North Avenue could be so controversial? The site of the fast-food outlet, located on the corner of 17th Street and North Avenue, has been home to a series of fast-food businesses since the early 1980s.

Site owner Amjad Tufail wants to lease the currently unused space to Church’s Chicken, which occupied the building once before. “They are part of a big chain,” Tufail said. “They are bringing in $300,000 to $400,000 in investment, and 20 to 30 jobs, which will help the neighborhood a lot.”

The problem, some neighbors say, is that there are too many fast-food restaurants in the neighborhood right now. About 80% of all restaurants in the area are fast-food or convenience stores, and these residents say they want more healthy options.

Leading the charge is Sharon Adams, who runs the Walnut Way Conservation Corp., a community garden and resource center. The group’s headquarters and lush gardens are located behind the proposed Church’s Chicken. An alley and a bright mural painting separate the two properties.

Adams said that while she would like to see a busy commercial district built up on that stretch of North Avenue, one more fast-food place would not help the neighborhood become more economically diverse and self-sustaining. “It’s too much,” Adams said. “We have a high, high concentration of fast food in this neighborhood. We are working to create an opportunity rich district.”

Adams argued that Church’s Chicken would not be a good match for the up-and-coming neighborhood, which has seen a steady increase in home ownership and investment.

“We really see ourselves restoring this to a traditional Main Street neighborhood,” Adams said. Young Kim, executive director of the Fondy Food Center, also opposes the lease of the property to Church’s Chicken.

“If the only option is fast food, that’s a problem,” said Kim, whose office is located in the Walnut Way building. But Tufail argued that Church’s Chicken offers vegetables and other healthier options for diners.

“It’s the customer’s choice,” Tufail said. Tufail said that Adams’ opposition to Church’s Chicken is more personal, and claims that she and her husband approached him earlier this year about leasing or buying the property to develop a restaurant.

“The deal didn’t go through,” Tufail said. “The only reason they oppose this is because I didn’t lease them the property.” Adams said she did speak with Tufail about his plans for the vacant property, but that she did not intend to purchase or lease it personally. “We had explored that on behalf of Walnut Way,” Adams said. Walnut Way and its supporters will hold a vigil at 6 p.m. on Thursday, Sept. 11, at the corner of 17th Street and North Avenue.

The Board of Zoning Appeals will make its final decision on the Church’s Chicken permit on Sept. 18.

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