IHop fought over congestion

IHop fought over congestion

August 13th, 2011 by Ellis Smith in Business Around the Region

When the International House of Pancakes builds a new restaurant, iHop representative Marla Chaliff said she usually receives a warm welcome.

But the pancake giant's push to build an iHop on Gunbarrel Road has run into stiff opposition from city officials, even though some neighbors say they're in favor of the project, Chaliff said.

"Usually I have mayors calling me up and begging me to put in an iHop," she said. "This was unexpected."

Jack Benson, Chattanooga city councilman and member of the planning board that reviews zoning changes, says he objects to the project because it doesn't fit with the land use plan for East Brainerd.

"[Hamilton Place] will be a throwaway mall unless we restrict the commercial growth and keep it from ruining those neighborhoods," Benson said.

Shoppers could begin to stay away from the already busy area, and homeowners could search for new places to live if traffic gets any worse, or if commercial development in the area gets out of control, he said.

"If you put high-traffic businesses in there, you would really have a snarl," Benson said.

Chaliff and developer Bassam Issa requested a meeting with neighbors Thursday to make their case for the construction of the pancake restaurant, which would sit just across the street from the Target shopping center.

Neighbors are meeting at noon at the Heritage House to discuss the project, she said.

"I would bet donuts to dollars that the people who say they're neighbors and say they're against it, they're not actually neighbors who live right there," Chaliff said. "I spent most of yesterday sitting on doorsteps and talking to these people."

Chaliff argued that iHop, which is traditionally open 24 hours, is an alcohol-free family restaurant that wouldn't pose a problem during rush hour and would add to the area's tax base.

"We're going to bring about 75 jobs in construction-related trades, and an additional 75 people hired within the restaurant, and about $200,000 in taxes," she said.

The property is zoned for office use, a so-called low intensity use. Previous efforts to turn it into a commercial zone to support a restaurant were rejected, Benson said, and he intends to continue to "hold the line."