No new Chick-fil-A on the old Grant Boys site, Costa Mesa commission says

A proposal to build a Chick-fil-A on the site of the former Grant Boys store in Costa Mesa was unanimously rejected by the Planning Commission on Monday over concerns that the restaurant could hinder traffic flow in the area.

The proposal called for demolishing the existing structures and building a new 1,999-square-foot fast-food restaurant at 1750 Newport Blvd., near the intersection of Rochester Street in the downtown area.

The restaurant would have had drive-through and walk-up service, but no interior seating.

The commission’s decision followed almost two hours of discussion and public comments, most of them in favor of the project.

Though commissioners said they weren’t against the concept of a second local Chick-fil-A location, they were united in believing the property in question isn’t the right fit.

A substantial sticking point for commissioners, city staff and some residents was how Chick-fil-A proposed to handle traffic flowing to and from the site.

Under the plans reviewed Monday, vehicles would enter the property from Rochester — a two-lane street — and exit onto Newport Boulevard.

Given how busy Newport Boulevard gets, commissioners said they could foresee cars lining up while drivers wait for a break in the traffic so they can leave the site.

“The gremlin in the machine is Newport Boulevard and exiting the site — that’s the problem,” said commission Chairman Stephan Andranian.

Commissioners and city staff members also said they were concerned that traffic could back up onto Rochester during busy periods.

“There’s no margin for error in this location,” said Public Services Director Raja Sethuraman. “It’s very tight, and for a store to operate like this, I cannot imagine how it would work.”

Supporters, though, touted the proposed restaurant as a prime reuse of a property that’s been vacant since Grant Boys — an outdoor-gear store that sold camping materials, clothes, fishing equipment and firearms — closed in 2015.

Though Grant Boys’ eye-catching Old West-style exterior helped make it something of a local landmark, some said they favor getting a more modern-looking facility on the site.

Others praised Chick-fil-A, saying the company has a long record of being a good neighbor and quality operator at its current site in Costa Mesa on Harbor Boulevard.

“They have been a wonderful community partner — they support major events around town in many different ways,” said Tom Johnson, president of the Costa Mesa Chamber of Commerce. “I can only imagine how much better it would be if we had two.”

Project consultant Ed Hale said the proposed restaurant was designed so customers could quickly and efficiently enter, get their food and leave.

“We believe that the numbers, the hard data, support our proposal and alleviate the nebulous concerns that have been presented by the staff,” he said.

Randy Garell, who co-owned and operated Grant Boys, also urged the commission to sign off on the project.

Garell said “many undesirable businesses” such as bars and nightclubs expressed interest in the property but that he and his family chose Chick-fil-A because “they run a very clean, efficient operation. We did not want to bring someone in who would not be good for the community.”

“We think that Chick-fil-A, a store that sells chicken and is open six days a week, is a good trade for a store that was open seven days a week and sold guns,” Garell said, noting that Chick-fil-A restaurants are closed on Sundays. “Hardly anyone ever gets killed by a chicken.”

Andranian, though, said the proposed restaurant presented potential dangers of its own.

“While I appreciate that hardly anyone ever gets killed by a chicken, unfortunately people do get killed in traffic accidents,” Andranian said. “And this is kind of an accident waiting to happen.”

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