The Kent Board of Zoning Appeals voted Monday night to approve all the necessary zoning code variance requests made by the franchise doughnut shop for the small lot at the corner of East Main Street and University Drive.
The approval came following lengthy discussions over the restaurant's request for seven parking spaces and four proposed signs. The city zoning code requires a minimum 10 parking spaces for the project and permits no more than two signs.
Ken Bloom, the franchisee who would run the shop, said unlike most Dunkin' Donuts he expects the Kent store will rely more on walk-in traffic than customers using the drive-thru or inside counter, so he doesn't believe the project needs excess parking.
"The drive-thru is critical," Bloom said. "Without a drive-thru we wouldn’t be standing before you."
Elizabeth Eaken, the project architect with David Sommers & Associates, said the doughnut chain would look for another location if it didn't believe the proposed site would profit.
"They feel very confident, given the location right across from the university, there’s going to be a lot of walk-in customers as well as drive-thru business," she said.
"We’re obviously counting on a lot of foot traffic from the university," Bloom said. "If people come and there’s nowhere for them to park, we lose them as a customer. Obviously that is a concern for us."
But members of the zoning board and the property's neighbor to the north disagreed and feared employees would have nowhere to park and customers could be forced to park illegally at nearby businesses.
"I do not see how 7 parking spaces is going to cut it," said David Schumann, the owner of the rental house at 114 University Drive just north of the site. "It looks like there’s not enough adequate parking any way you dice it."
Bloom said the number of employees working at the site would range from a minimum of two during afternoons and evenings to as many as eight workers on the two or three busiest days of the week. Employees, Bloom said, would likely be told to park on nearby streets.
Zoning board member Dave Mail, like all four of the zoning members present, said he also was worried about granting the variance to allow just seven parking spaces.
"The limitations on his parking, the primary downside of that is on his business," Mail said. "That’s a risk he’s taking."
The board approved the variance request to allow just seven parking spaces by a vote of 3-1. Zoning board chair Elizabeth Howard cast the only vote against the variance.
"My suspicion is that if there’s no parking and the patron really wants a donut, that they will park in Wendy’s lot and walk over … or they’ll park in the Burger King and walk over," Howard said. "I suspect that those two businesses will have much more difficulty than maybe the (residents) on University Drive."
Too many signs
What some zoning board members called an "artistic" design of one of the doughnut shop's signs received a lot of positive feedback, but in the end the proposed Dunkin' Donuts had too many signs for the board's liking.
Kent's zoning code permits two signs for the project, and that includes the drive-thru menu board.
The project had five proposed signs, but members of the zoning board voted to allow four signs. After some talk, the zoning board eventually voted to not allow a four-color sign on the building side facing east.
The board voted to allow: the pilon street sign near East Main Street; the main building sign that reads "Dunkin' Donuts"; a sign of a coffee cup silhouette; and the drive-through menu board.
The board did grant the final variance request regarding the cup silhouette sign — which several board members called artistic in appearance — that allows the 194 square-foot sign to exceed the maximum 100 square-foot size.
"I suppose I can live with it even though it is very big,” Howard said. “I completely agree the one on University (Drive) has got to go."
'Afghani airport tower'
The proposed two-story design for Kent varies greatly from the usual design of the doughnut chain's stores.
Eaken, a Kent resident and the project architect, said she was allowed much more creative control from the business given the lot they are working with is smaller than the typical Dunkin' Donuts property.
"Having done several Dunkin' Donuts and franchise type projects they have a standard, cookie-cutter look," she said. "Because it’s a small site we got to get a little of our creative juices flowing. I’m excited as a Kent resident to see this neat little project go on the property."
The plan calls for a 3,111 square foot building with operations, restrooms and seating on the first floor and additional seating only on the second floor.
Bloom said they asked the architecture firm to create a design that would fit well in a college town.
"We’re really pleased with the way it turned out," he said.
The actual building design garnered few comments from the zoning board — except for Mail, who likened the design to that of an airport control tower in Afghanistan.
"It looks like an Afghani airport tower," Mail said.
Dunkin' Donuts initially asked for seven variances from the zoning board but withdrew one request mid-meeting Monday. The board approved all six other requests.
The proposal still has to go to the Kent Planning Commission for site plan approval. The planning commission will vote on the site plan in July.
Bloom said he doesn't have a firm timeline for construction and opening yet if the commission approves the project.
"We’d love to be able to break ground this year," he said.