My view: While popular, council wrong on Dunkin Donuts

By Darrell Wacker - Managing Editor -

While I fully realize I am in a decided minority, I believe the Vandalia City Council whiffed not once, but twice, on the Dunkin Donuts decision.

Let me be clear up front – my view has absolutely zero to do with Jim’s Donuts. I get donuts at Jim’s, and would have continued if the Dunkin Donuts had been built. In fact, I believe Jim’s would have benefited from the Dunkin Donuts, not suffered.

Despite being in their name, donuts are a fraction of Dunkin Donuts business model which relies mostly on coffee and breakfast sandwiches.

And to all those who say the project could have been located elsewhere, they don’t understand the economics of a restaurant that does most of its business before 11 a.m. To make a profit, Dunkin Donuts needed to be where the traffic flow was the greatest – on eastbound National Road before drivers get on I-75. The store wasn’t viable anywhere else.

My view of this issue comes from two angles – improving decaying properties and economic development.

Councilman Dave Lewis moved to deny the project at both readings because he’s opposed to using the Planned Unit Development (PUD) process to effectively change the zoning of a property without formally changing it.

“That’s not what the PUD was designed for,” said Lewis after the May 16 council meeting in which the restaurant failed to gain a single vote of support. “If someone wants that use for a property then they should ask to change the zoning, not use the PUD. That’s the wrong way to do it and not what the PUD was designed for.”

I give Lewis credit for being out front with his reasons to oppose the project. Lewis is a rare breed – a principled politician, and I have no doubt he is acting in what he believes is the city’s best interest. I consider him a friend, but on this issue, this project, I respectfully disagree.

A PUD overlay is “designed to allow land planning that responds to the unique characteristics of the site and its surroundings while better fulfilling the needs of both the community and the applicant than conventional zoning and subdivision standards permit,” according to city code. That’s exactly what its designed to do – assist in development that doesn’t quite fit the exact zoning while not straying too far.

Pat Gilligan, the developer of the Dunkin Donuts, pointed this out rather effectively by showing photos of all the surrounding businesses which included a Hot Head Burrito, Jim’s Donuts, Domino’s Pizza, and others.

To me, if council doesn’t like a PUD that does allow for this sort of development, then they should repeal the PUD that was passed by previous councils.

Instead, council just denied what even Lewis admits may be the best possible development for the two properties at issue. If built, the Dunkin Donuts would have arguably been the most attractive building on the south side of National Road from Dixie to I-75.

One of the properties has been on the market 12 years, the other two. It’s a small spot of land, surrounded on all sides, and by denying this project, getting another proposal that passes council’s smell test may be like trying to thread the proverbial camel through the eye of a needle.

That, in my opinion, isn’t fair to the developer who spent thousands of dollars and made multiple changes to his plans while bending over backwards to meet the requests of city staff.

It’s not fair to the property owners who, after years on the market, were finally going to be able to sell their property. Now, they are back to square one and likely face an even more difficult task in finding a buyer thanks to the city council’s action.

Finally, its not fair to the citizens of the city who would have seen decaying properties that are a burden to their owners turned into an attractive, job creating business that would have expanded the city’s tax base.

That, to me, sounds like a bad deal all the way around.

By Darrell Wacker

Managing Editor

Reach Darrell Wacker at 937-684-8983 or on Twitter @VandaliaDrummer.

Reach Darrell Wacker at 937-684-8983 or on Twitter @VandaliaDrummer.