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Neighborhood residents want Yonah Burger, but fear traffic
Some worry restaurant will abandon location and less savory business will move in
This is the driveway that would be an exit onto Green Street Circle from the drive-through at the Yonah Burger site on Thompson Bridge Road. - photo by Tom Reed

Green Street Circle residents want to welcome a burger restaurant to town, but they’re still worried about the drive-through traffic.

The question originally started with the safety of an exit onto their street at a blind curve.

“The week before the first public hearing, when we first heard about it, I made a petition and got people to sign it,” said resident James Gilbert. “The gist was we didn’t want them to use the back driveway because of the obvious concerns for traffic safety because it’s in about the worst place it can be. There could be a significant accident there.”

The Yonah Burger, which has locations in Cleveland and Dahlonega, is proposed for a location that has served as a retail phone store, dental lab and medical billing office. The restaurant will use an entrance and exit at 1195 Thompson Bridge Road and an exit on Green Street Circle.

The Thompson Bridge property is currently zoned as neighborhood business and a restaurant is an acceptable use. But City Council members must approve a special use for a drive-through window.

“It’s always interesting how something changes over time and the end product was not like what we started with,” Gilbert said. “It mutated into people saying they don’t want the drive-through, but that’s not where it started. Most of the residents would be content with it if we put a barrier across the back driveway. That would mitigate most of our concerns.”

The city’s planning board unanimously approved the request on Oct. 12 but added four conditions after hearing concerns from residents. The drive-through speaker must face away from residential areas, a natural buffer of trees and plants must be added behind the restaurant, the exit onto Green Street Circle must be left-turn only and the new owners must install a concrete median at the exit to enforce the left turn.

“We’re most happy to have a restaurant there, but with cars parked behind businesses on the road, drivers are already forced to pass across the line into the opposite lane,” he said. “With an exit on Green Street Circle, it’s going to be a real wreck, and we’ll be seeing people in the hospital.”

Residents spoke out against the restaurant at the council’s Nov. 2 meeting, and council members tabled taking action on the issue until its Nov. 16 meeting to give city staff time to determine if property owners will close the back entrance.

“It may come to a head with each side jostling for votes to block the driveway, which may kill the whole project,” Gilbert said. “The way it may have come across at the last meeting is that a bunch of rich folks don’t want it in their backyard, but we just don’t want anyone to be hurt. A lot of animosity was created then.”

Gary and Brenda Haynes took over the historic Cleveland eatery in 2003 and the Dahlonega restaurant in 2009. The third location would serve breakfast, lunch and dinner between 6 a.m. and 9 p.m. Monday through Saturday.

“We understand that the driveway is already there and there’s nothing we can force anyone to do. But all we can do is request the property owners to consider it a safety hazard and put up a fence or gate that would block off that entrance,” said Green Street Circle resident Callie Flack. “It could still be used for delivery trucks, but general patrons would have to exit on Thompson Bridge, where they would exit from the left turn anyway.”

If the Hayneses move to a new location, a building with a drive-through window could also offer space to a less desirable restaurant in the future.

“If Yonah Burger comes here and does well, they may decide to move somewhere else with more space, which opens the door for any establishment with a drive-through to move into that building without any type of fight,” Flack said. “Although Yonah is a great place, and we have the utmost belief that they will run a great place, it may not always be at that location.”

The residents also want to maintain the historic value of their street.

“There are generations of families on this street and houses passed down. The street is a special jewel of the city, and it’s important to protect,” she said. “I love living across the street from Publix, and I have no issue living near commercial places. But with the driveway, it actually connects to our neighborhood, which is different from Dairy Queen, Longstreet or Burger King being nearby.”

With one entrance onto Green Street Circle, the residents want to keep it that way for the sake of safety.

“Years ago, when the other side of the street was closed, we were thrilled because it helped with cut through traffic,” said Kathy Stroberg, another resident. “We are concerned that it is quickly becoming any alley for businesses and merchants on Thompson Bridge Road. Our biggest concern is trying to fit a square peg in a round hole. The drive-through window is not compatible with our neighborhood.”

Residents also wonder whether the drive-through window is necessary.

“The original building in Cleveland doesn’t have a drive-through, so why do they need one here? If their business is doing well without it, why do they want this one?” Stroberg said. “We don’t wish Yonah Burger wasn’t here. Progress is important to the welfare of the city. We’re worried about the traffic and them renting a building that’s not truly compatible with their needs to have a drive-through window.”

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