Christi Nail has spent thousands of dollars on double-pane windows to keep out the noise and wooden shutters to block out the headlights. She is thinking of building a concrete retaining wall to ward off runaway vehicles. Nail is boxing in her family to drown out disturbances created by the Jack in the Box at the T-intersection of 30th and Upas streets in North Park.
Nearby residents claim the fast-food restaurant has been a nuisance for years. They have complained about litter, traffic, and noise, not only from customers using the drive-through but also from 18-wheelers making late-night deliveries. The Nails have dealt with the problems since 2000, when they purchased their home on Dale Street, across from the restaurant’s side entrance. In 2004, while trying to negotiate the restaurant’s driveway, a driver smacked into Nail’s truck, bending the frame. The Nails renovated their house so car stereos wouldn’t rattle the windows and late-night deliveries wouldn’t wake up the kids. Many community residents say that despite having conversations with management and the corporate office, carpet cleaners and grease-trap crews continue to arrive after 2:00 a.m.
Now residents worry that a plan to tear down the restaurant and build a new one will further diminish their quality of life. The proposal, currently under review by the City’s Development Services Department, adds 234 square feet to the building, extends the length of the drive-through, and adds an outdoor dining area. It reconfigures the site, moving the main entrance from Upas Street to Dale, which residents say will increase noise and pose risks for pedestrians and kids playing in their front yards. In October, the North Park Planning Committee unanimously rejected the proposal.
Neighbors are frustrated with the City’s apparent support of the project, despite zoning that prohibits drive-through restaurants. If the plan is approved, some residents contemplate selling their homes and leaving the neighborhood.
“If the current restaurant redesign is permitted to go forward, we will probably not stay,” writes Nail.
At the intersection of 30th and Upas, the commercial area abuts the residential neighborhood. To mitigate impacts on residents, 12 years ago the City approved commercial regulations for businesses within a one-block radius of the intersection. The CN-1-2 zone prohibits “drive-in and drive through restaurants.” (Only two other blocks on 30th Street in North Park are zoned CN-1-2.)
However, those regulations do not apply to businesses that operated with their current land-use permit before 2000, when the zoning designation was established. That is the case with Jack in the Box, which opened in 1961. The regulations do not apply, that is, unless the restaurant closes for an extended period or the building is torn down and rebuilt. In that case, the permit expires and the company is subject to current zoning regulations.
“I’m absolutely disgusted to find out that the City is willing to ignore its own rules about zoning and grant Jack in the Box variances for the hours of operation, the drive-through, required parking spaces, and building-to-lot-size requirements, among others,” says Nail. “I purchased my home in good faith that the City would follow its own rules.”
The proposal appears to have support from the City’s Development Services Department. In a November 4 email, development project manager Michelle Sokolowski informed residents that staff supported extending drive-through hours until 2:30 a.m. “Staff supports the hours of operation with conditions to mitigate potential noise impacts from drive-through operations, including message board confirmation and courtesy signs.”
A Jack in the Box spokesperson says the renovation will only enhance the neighborhood and promises that the restaurant will not extend its hours. The restaurant is currently open from 6:00 a.m. to midnight and the drive-through from 5:30 a.m. to 2:00 a.m.
“We have 30 years remaining on our lease and would like to replace the 50-year-old building with a new one,” says spokesperson Brian Luscombe. “The proposed design will significantly improve the area. There will be more landscape, and [it] will be more pedestrian friendly.
“Our options are, continuing to operate the restaurant in its current condition for many more years or enhance the entire property with a new restaurant. We’ve met with neighbors and modified our original plans as a result of those discussions. For example, we initially submitted plans for a 24-hour drive-through, but after concerns from residents we will maintain current hours of operation.”
Nail denies the rebuild will enhance the neighborhood. “As much as everybody would like to see a pretty new building there, it boils down to quality of life, allowing exceptions, and opening doors to issues that are already regulated. Those regulations were enacted for a reason and weren’t meant as suggestions. They need to be upheld. By tearing down the existing building, they are starting at square one, just like they had never been there.”
Rick Pyles lives near the restaurant and serves on the North Park Planning Committee. Pyles says he hopes that the zoning codes will prod the City and Jack in the Box to come up with a plan that complements this neighborhood of Craftsman homes, near the edge of Balboa Park. “The [zoning] designation provides nearby residents protections against allowing commercial emphasis in this residential neighborhood,” he says. “Many current residents purchased their properties with this zoning in mind and fully believed that these laws would be upheld.
“And I still hold fast to the idea,” Pyle continues, “that Jack in the Box could do something incredible there that would be fully embraced and supported by the community, but it won’t be the typical stucco box with drive-through operation as its main goal.
“But I guess Jack is just too stuck in the box to think outside of it.”