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Yonah Burger approved despite residents qualms
Green Street Circle neighbors upset
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Gainesville residents will see a new burger restaurant in town this spring, and Green Street Circle neighbors are still upset.

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

At Tuesday morning's Gainesville City Council meeting, council members approved a request to add a drive-thru window to the building.

Green Street Circle residents opposed the drive-through, expressing concerns about increased traffic and safety hazards on their street from the restaurant's back exit.

After the decision was tabled from the council's 5:30 p.m. Nov. 2 meeting, residents planned to show up at the same time Tuesday but didn't realize the meeting schedule flips between morning and evening sessions.

"We didn't realize the meeting was at 9 a.m., and several people called me and said they are pulling up now to find that there's no meeting," Green Street Circle resident Callie Flack said at 5:30 p.m. Tuesday. "If we were there today and they had to make the decision to our faces, I don't know if it would have made a difference. But it would have been nice to be represented."

Neighbors chatted about the decision Tuesday afternoon.
"I've talked to several residents on the street today, and everyone is upset about the decision," Flack said.

Mayor Pro Tem Danny Dunagan, who attended a neighborhood meeting and continued to talk to residents throughout the process, made the first motion to approve the request and require an 8-inch barrier at the back exit that would only allow customers to turn left onto Green Street Circle.

"This condition will make it that much harder for people to turn right. We want to protect the neighborhood," Dunagan said after the meeting. "We also welcome the restaurant. I think it'll be a good addition to Gainesville."

Thinking of the residents, Mayor Ruth Bruner was the sole vote against the special use request.

"I felt the neighbors understand their street best with the concerns about traffic and accidents," she said after the meeting. "I wanted to support the neighborhood. But I also wish the restaurant well, and I hope they'll be good neighbors who are willing to work with residents as they move forward."

Residents aren't pleasedthat there was only one vote in opposition.

"Several of us are outraged at Danny Dunagan because we expected he would represent us as his ward. We are his constituents," said resident Shannon Ball. "We've also realized that the property owners are well-connected politically, and this smacks of backroom politics. What they're trying to do with the drive-through doesn't even make sense. There's not enough space."

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.

After residents spoke out at the Nov. 2 council meeting, council members decided to table the decision until Tuesday to ask the owners if they would be willing to close the back exit or install a gate to limit traffic.

On Tuesday morning, the owners declined to build the gate, saying costs were too high.

"Some people feel our concerns got overlooked, and many residents feel the property owners were unwilling to compromise," Flack said. "It's a clear safety hazard of people turning left at the blind curve, not to mention the six to 10 cars parked behind the landscape company every day, which already causes drivers to move over into the other lane."

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

"We still have a long road ahead to get the permits together," Gary Haynes said Tuesday morning, predicting the restaurant will open in April. "I feel resolved with the approval this morning, though I still don't know what the big beef is because we were trying to help the neighborhood by doing the left turn only. The drive-through will divert 70 percent of traffic onto Thompson Bridge."

Dunagan also required that the drive-through only apply to Yonah Burger. After residents expressed concerns that a special use attached to the property would allow any restaurant to move in with a drive-through window, Dunagan decided any future owner must go before the planning department and City Council again to ask for a drive-through.

Council members also agreed to hear additional concerns from residents in the future if noise or right turns at the back exit become an issue. But Ball is afraid the biggest decision is a "done deal."

"We don't have any recourse at this point. The only thing that would get people's attention is an accident down there, and it's going to happen when a delivery truck takes up both lanes," she said. "I hope somebody doesn't get hurt. All day long we've been sick to our stomachs."