The owner of the Owens Drive property where the former Denny's restaurant building has sat vacant for years is proposing to redevelop the site with a larger commercial building to accommodate multiple tenants.
The project application is on track to head to the City Council for consideration later this fall after the Planning Commission endorsed the proposal with some modifications last week.
The commissioners' conversation centered on what types of new businesses there would require a more stringent conditional use permit and making sure traffic into and out of the redesigned parcel would move smoothly in light of common congestion in the area, especially from the nearby Chick-fil-A, according to city planning manager Ellen Clark.
The project parcel at 6455 Owens Drive is nearly 36,000 square feet overall, situated between Johnson Court and the Larkspur Landing hotel, just a short block from the busy Owens Drive-Hopyard Road intersection.
The site contains a parking lot and a 3,510-square-foot restaurant building that is rundown and has remained empty since Denny's left nearly four years ago.
Owner Abbas Mash initially brought forward a redevelopment plan back in 2015 that proposed replacing the restaurant with two new single-story commercial buildings, but that concept never advanced beyond a city workshop in September 2016, according to Clark.
Now, Mash is proceeding with a revised plan that calls for demolishing the former Denny's and constructing a single rectangular building at 10,980 square feet with five commercial tenant suites, with one intended to be a restaurant and the others some form of retail or commercial business.
The building would back up to Owens Drive, with the front doors facing a parking lot on the opposite side that would be screened by the building. There would be 42 parking spaces, five fewer than currently onsite.
City staff described the proposed building as incorporating traditional architectural style. Eleven trees would need to be removed, including one heritage tree -- to be replaced by 21 new trees and landscaping improvements.
The planned-unit development (PUD) application also asks the city to rezone the property from freeway commercial to PUD-commercial.
The Planning Commission reviewed the proposal during its Sept. 25 regular meeting, with most of the discussion focusing on traffic near the property, according to Clark.
A busy commercial area just off the freeway, traffic backups are common in all directions at the lighted intersection of Owens Drive and Hopyard Road, plus there are often queuing issues along Johnson Court -- and some times continuing onto Owens -- because of the drive-thru line and crowded parking lot at Chick-fil-A, which is located just steps away from the old Denny's site.
"The city is working on design for intersection improvements at the Hopyard/Owens intersection, including widening to add a southbound right turn lane from Hopyard on to Owens, that'll also include a new protected bike lane and bike signal," Clark told the Weekly. "The project is close to final design, with installation expected next summer."
The commissioners added a stipulation, at staff's recommendation, to not allow tenants to move into the proposed commercial building at 6455 Owens Drive until after the intersection improvements are completed, according to Clark.
They also opted to expand the list of potential businesses that would trigger a conditional use permit review to include coffee shops, doughnut shops and bagel shops, because of traffic patterns and impact on parking, Clark said.
The commission voted 3-0 to recommend approval of the project to the City Council. Commissioners Greg O'Connor, Brandon Pace and Herb Ritter were absent.
Commissioner Jack Balch didn't support the new condition of preventing occupancy until the Hopyard-Owens roadwork is finished, but he joined the majority in the final vote so the item could advance with recommendation to the council, according to Clark.
The project is tentatively scheduled to appear before the council on Nov. 5.