Fairfield officials worry proposed Chick-fil-A may affect traffic

FAIRFIELD — Chick-fil-A may be making its way to town to satisfy the chicken cravings for Fairfield residents, however, town officials are worried about the negative impact the restaurant may have on traffic in the area.

Town Plan and Zoning Chairman Thomas Noonan said the restaurant’s officials may be selling themselves short on how much of a demand they will actually generate, creating more traffic issues than presented at a recent public hearing on the proposal.

“Chick-fil-A is very popular,” he said. “It may be a victim of its own success.”

However, attorney John Knuff, who represents the owners of 750 Post Road Associates LLC, believes Chick-fil-A or any other restaurant at this site “will have no negative impacts” based on the size of the lot, the site plan and the information gathered by several engineers.

“The size of the site itself, its far larger than any other Chick-Fil-A in the state and probably any other fast food drive thru restaurants,” Knuff said at a recent public hearing on the proposal. “It was important to my client and for Chick-fil-A to have a site with sufficient size that easily absorbed customer traffic with no backups on the adjacent roadway network.”

The restaurant is being proposed for a “highly visible, high-traffic” site at the former property of Joe’s American Bar & Grill, which closed down nearly two years ago. The property was then sold for $3.9 million late in 2020, according to a news release from Angel Commercial LLC who represented both the buyer and seller in the transaction.

Chick-fil-A’s proposed location also includes the adjacent Colonial Unisex Hair Cutters barbershop, a family-owned business that has been on Post Road since 1970.

In total, Knuff believes the 1.9 acre lot is big enough to maintain the demand for Chick-fil-A, however the board voiced several concerns about the lot when comparing the site to other Chick-fil-A’s in the state, most notably Norwalk.

Currently, the site plan for Norwalk does not address the problem of traffic. The drive-thru simply cannot handle the demand of drivers during peak hours. Clint Mattson, of Chick-fil-A, said the Fairfield location is meant to relieve Norwalk of those issues, but he said the company has also learned from their mistakes over the years.

“We picked this site because we really want to be a part of the Fairfield community,” said Mattson. “We want to take pressure off of some of our existing restaurants. Norwalk is close to this one and needs some relief.”

“Norwalk is designed to have 18 cars in its stack,” he added. “It was built in 2017. This one actually is being evaluated right now to modify the site due to some of the traffic issues that they are dealing with to increase the capacity and efficiency of the drive thru.”

Learning from the mistakes of Norwalk, the Fairfield drive thru can accommodate 36 cars, with the opportunity to add an extra eight vehicles. Knuff said Fairfield only requires a 150-foot drive-thru, or approximately enough space for seven to eight cars.

Fairfield will also have a surplus of 23 parking spaces which offers flexibility in terms of customer, employer parking and facilitating easy access throughout the site. Knuff says the traffic analysis also shows that with “significant improvements” the chain won’t have more of an impact on the area roads compared to just renting out the Joe’s American building to a new tenant.

“Not only is Chick-fil-A known for it’s extremely high quality food and unrivaled customer service, but it has also set the bar for operational facility,” Knuff said. “We certainly understand that some people of the public will point to traffic issues or concerns generated at other Chick-fil-As or drive-thrus and claim that the same will happen at this location.

“When we later compare this site to other drive-thru uses on the basis of acreage, human capacity, parking and the opportunity for signal timing and improvements, those comparison whether to Norwalk or anywhere else are wholly irrelevant,” he added.

Noonan questioned the IT Trip generation used to determine the volume of customers and vehicles that will be going to the restaurant. He said the Norwalk location used the same approach and still had “well documented” traffic issues.

“I understand your point that it is bigger, but if you’re using ITE, which I’m going to infer that it is lower than the actual count based on the other sites in Connecticut,” he told the Chick-fil-A representatives. “How do I feel comfortable accepting ITE trip generation?”

Chick-fil-A officials say this restaurant represents a $2 million investment into the town of Fairfield. One that will offer between 125 and 150 jobs.

“It will bring back to life a site that has sat dormant for years and otherwise might continue given the challenges that face restaurants, brick-and-mortar retail and other commercial uses,” said Knuff.

The application will continue to be discussed on Sept. 14 as attorney Joel Green, who represents the opposition, will be set to voice his opinion on the possible Chick-fil-A Fairfield location.