In the mid-1990s, residents of West Akron’s Highland Square neighborhood picketed, held meetings and wrote letters to protest a proposed Taco Bell.
They prevailed, with the city of Akron buying the triangular-shaped property where a Mustard Seed grocery store is taking shape.
Residents in another part of West Akron are engaged in their own fight to keep a Taco Bell out of their neighborhood. Concerned about increased traffic, late-night noise and additional trash, they hope that Taco Bell’s plans can be thwarted.
Hope might be all they have, however.
The property, at the corner of West Market Street and Frank Boulevard, is in a mostly commercial area that lacks the historic flavor of Highland Square, and zoning allows a fast-food restaurant.
“There needs to be consideration for where things go,” said Tom Knauer, who heads the Waldorf Drive Block Watch, which represents residents who live about a block away from the site. “I like Taco Bell. I just don’t think this is going to work too well.”
Knauer, who heard about the Taco Bell proposal at a recent block watch meeting, has passed out fliers in his neighborhood, emailed city leaders and mailed letters to area businesses, including the owners of Larry’s and Ken Stewart’s — two restaurants a block from the site — seeking support for the effort against the fast-food outlet.
Akron Councilwoman Marilyn Keith, who represents this Ward 8 area, shares residents’ concerns about the traffic and potential late hours for the restaurant. She said, though, that one of the buildings that would be torn down to make room for the restaurant is vacant, while the other is partially empty, and several businesses have failed to succeed at this location.
“I do not think there is anything we can do about a Taco Bell coming in,” she said. “What we want will probably not go in there. What we would get [with Taco Bell] is activity in the ward.”
Taco Bell, which has purchased the property that includes two buildings that would be torn down, is seeking the required permits for the site.
Mike Antenucci, Akron’s zoning manager, said this process can take a couple of weeks, with agencies sometimes asking for revisions to the plans. He said the city reviews the site plan, zoning, setbacks, traffic, stormwater and utilities, and so far city departments have not found any code violations.
“You only have so much control,” he said.
The restaurant doesn’t need the approval of the Akron Planning Commission or Akron City Council because a restaurant is permitted under the zoning for the property, Antenucci said.
Planning Director Marco Sommerville said a Taco Bell wouldn’t be out of the ordinary for this area, which formerly had Kentucky Fried Chicken and Burger King restaurants and still has a McDonald’s.
“I know people might not want it,” he said. “The bottom line is: It’s zoned for a restaurant.”
Clint Langley, a spokesman for Taco Bell, declined this week to comment on the Akron project, except to say it will take time to finalize.
“The deal may not be totally consummated yet,” he said.
The new restaurant would displace two businesses that lease space in the building further east on the property: Computer City has found a new home in Fairlawn; Assassin Tattoo Studio is looking for new space.
Rich Griggs, the owner of the tattoo shop, said he has built a steady clientele over the past two years and is disappointed to have to move by June 30. He is hoping to find another affordable spot, preferably in Akron.
“I wasn’t preparing to move,” said Griggs, who was in the second year of a three-year lease. “I planned to invest more in the building there, remodeling. I’m trying to find a space I can afford that quick.”
In addition to losing his shop, Griggs has an apartment behind Ken Stewart’s and is concerned about the potential noise from cars using Taco Bell’s drive-thru.
“It’s all around kind of crappy,” said Griggs, a tattoo artist for 4½ years. “There’s not much I can do.”
That also might be the case for residents, though Knauer and others are still making an effort.
Knauer said they would rather see a salon or coffee shop go in the retail space — development that would be useful for residents but that wouldn’t generate as much traffic.
He mentioned traffic is a major concern for the area, especially after Akron closed Pershing Avenue in 2012, routing interstate-bound traffic to Frank and away from the White Pond Drive neighborhood. He said putting a busy restaurant at Market and Frank will further congest an area where traffic often backs up.
Residents on Waldorf, Knauer’s street, routinely have to wait several minutes before they can turn left onto Market, he said.
Knauer is hoping city leaders and Taco Bell officials at least listen to and consider residents’ concerns. He said having the restaurant close earlier, possibly at midnight, would be a start, along with studying where and how traffic should exit the property.
“I am hoping somebody at least critically evaluates what we are saying,” said Knauer, 47, an advertising executive who has lived on Waldorf for 14 years. “It would be a shame if it goes through and they say, ‘Gosh, I wish we would have considered that.’ I’m just anticipating some real challenges.”