DALTON, Ga. — Members of the Dalton City Council say they expect to vote later this month on a rezoning request that a developer says is needed to bring Olive Garden to West Walnut Avenue.
But the council members have asked City Attorney Gandi Vaughn to look at the issue first.
"We just want to make sure we have all the information in hand to make a decision that is legal and is intelligent," said Mayor Dennis Mock. "We don't want to make up our minds before we have all the information."
In November, Dalton attorney Daniel Laird told members of the Dalton-Whitfield Planning Commission that developers Naren Patel and his son Anish Govan plan to bring an Olive Garden to the former site of the O'Charley's restaurant at 1520 W. Walnut Ave., which is near the interstate.
But Laird said Olive Garden requires 150 to 180 parking spaces, almost double what the site has. That's why Govan is requesting that the City of Dalton rezone 1.7 acres the father and son own at 108 Kinnier Court, in the Dickson Acres subdivision, to C-2 commercial from R-1 residential. The plan is to destroy the house on the site and turn it into a parking lot with about 80 spaces.
Saying they didn't want to see a change in the nature of a residential neighborhood, members of the planning commission voted 3-0 to recommend denying the rezoning request.
Ethan Calhoun, the planning director for the Northwest Georgia Regional Commission, which handles staff work for the planning commission, said the staff could recommend the rezoning if 20-foot buffers were placed along the site adjacent to all residential property and there was no entrance to the parking lot from the residential neighborhood.
City Council members will make the final decision on the rezoning request. The council members have a hearing on the city budget on Monday at 6 p.m and a regular meeting on Dec. 16, and the request could be placed on the agenda for either of those meetings but no decision has been made.
Council members say they want more information before making a decision. One thing they want to know is if there are any covenants or other restrictions on the site that could be violated if it is not used for a residence.
"(Vaughn) is going to do a title search and see what restrictions, if any, are built into the parcel," said council member Denise Wood.
Residents of the Dickson Acres subdivision packed the planning commission meeting in November, with only one speaking in favor of the rezoning. Several speakers said Patel has already bought other properties in the neighborhood and they fear he will try to have those rezoned. Others said Patel owns property on Walnut Avenue on either side of the former O'Charley's and said he should put the additional parking spaces there.
"There's obviously a lot of community concern," said council member Gary Crews. "We owe it to ourselves to make sure we have a real clear understanding of what the developer plans and what he wants, and a real clear understanding of what the neighbors' concerns are and what they want."
If council members don't believe they have sufficient information, they can vote to table the rezoning request to a later date.