published Sunday, September 25th, 2011

Barrett: Behold the wondrous, vast and uncanny might — of IHOP

Could somebody please make heads, tails or French toast of the objections to building an International House of Pancakes on Gunbarrel Road?

For weeks, I’ve digested this saga much as one might digest a Belgian waffle drizzled in cinnamon apple compote. But I still don’t get it.

City Councilman Jack Benson is on the board that studies proposed zoning changes — such as the minor adjustment to commercial that would let IHOP set up shop across from Target and serve strawberry banana Danish fruit crepes, among other goodies.

I label the zoning change “minor,” because the site in question is already sandwiched between two commercial zones — like juicy turkey, crisp bacon, savory cheddar and ripe tomatoes nestled between two sides of a lightly grilled roll. A Chik-fil-A, Panera Bread and multiple other restaurants are close by, too, so it’s not as if a change permitting an IHOP — with its promise of plentiful country-fried steak and eggs — would radically alter the complexion of the area.

But in a remarkably inscrutable analysis, Benson says commercial growth such as IHOP would ruin nearby neighborhoods and turn Hamilton Place — which is up Gunbarrel a piece — into a “throwaway mall.” The project, toward the East Brainerd Road end of Gunbarrel, “would create a cancer spot that would be precedent-setting all down East Brainerd Road,” he said. “It would spread. It would be malignant.”

And evidently it would prompt a series of frenzied, overblown metaphors from city officials. I mean really, cancer spots? Malignancies? Is this a zoning change request or the plot of the latest Saturday afternoon medical thriller on Syfy?

Who knew that an eatery serving humble corned-beef and cheese omelets, made more delectable by a splash of buttermilk batter, and mounds of hot pancakes marinated in blueberry syrup had the power of life and death over a massive shopping venue?

And what’s with Benson’s Yogi Berra-style assertion that the area may get so popular that people would stay away? I’d think that after feasting on a Philly Cheese Steak Stacker with a choice of seasoned fries, onion rings, fresh fruit, soup or salad and a dill pickle spear, IHOP fans might bebop on down to the mall — since they’re in the area anyway and are in the festive mood that comes from being well fed.

Last I checked, “too much traffic” is in the category of problems that retail zones typically want to have. It’s no reason to kill off potential employment — much less pot roast melts.

Paula Baxter, who has lived behind the site of the proposed IHOP for years, sees the benefit of the restaurant — namely about 200 construction, wait staff, cook and managerial jobs, plus a couple hundred thousand bucks in annual tax revenue. (She might get the intangible benefit of the wafted aroma of sizzling link sausages, too. But I digress.)

“It’s a city,” Baxter said at a community forum. “Let it be a city. Let it grow.”

Preferably with the protein-packed punch of a Mega Mushroom and Swiss Burger.

Minus the mushrooms.

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rolando said...

Excellent points, Mr Barrett, but I think the problem may be a bit more down to earth than a minor zoning change.

Perhaps Councilman Benson has his own agenda -- and perhaps a bit of stock or heavy lobbyist support -- in the Hamilton Place Mall itself. If so, he certainly wouldn't want any money syphoned off by those fly-by-night, down-the-streeters like Target and IHOP now, would he?.

Follow the money...that is the sure way to find out what is really behind most anything.

But then, I'm just an old retired crim investigator and have seen way too many dirty tricks pulled by those in positions of power. But I still follow the money trail...

September 26, 2011 at 6:44 p.m.
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