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Zoning board votes to allow drive-thru at former Harper’s site

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The Columbia Board of Zoning Appeals voted 4-2 in favor of a special exception allowing a drive-thru for a proposed Zaxby’s restaurant at the former Harper’s location in Five Points.

The board heard from the applicant, Jim Poston of Back Forty Holdings, who said he and his brother own nine Zaxby’s franchises in the Midlands. None of those locations have vehicular or pedestrian traffic problems, Poston said – one of the main concerns raised by around 20 members of the public who spoke at the Tuesday hearing. Most of the speakers were Five Points business owners or nearby residents speaking in opposition to the drive-thru.

Poston said the 700 Harden St. location will be twice as large as any other Zaxby’s he owns and in an older building with higher operating costs but historical significance.

“It’s a force-fit,” Poston said. “We’re making it work because it’s an area we really want to be in.”

John Scarborough, who has owned the property since 1972, said it was important to him to keep the building, and that he did not want a tenant such as a bar. Scarborough said he fielded a lot of phone calls about the property, but few were what he considered serious. Zaxby’s was the only potential tenant that “stepped up to the plate” and agreed to renovate, rather than raze, the building, he said.

The parade of speakers, for the most part, wasn’t swayed by reassurances that traffic will not be affected or arguments that drive-thrus, such as at Cookout, Chick-fil-A and Walgreen’s, already exist in Five Points. Those are different, many argued, from this one in what several called “the heart of Five Points” at the busy intersection of Devine, Harden and Santee streets.

Columbia attorney Dick Harpootlian, a resident of Five Points neighborhood Wales Gardens, said the Chick-Fil-A drive-thru is a “catastrophe” and argued that a Zaxby’s drive-thru would not be in line with Five Points’ desired image as a family-friendly shopping village.

“This is not a small thing,” Harpootlian said. “This is a big thing about where Five Points is going. This isn’t I-26 or I-20 or Beltline or Garners Ferry.”

Other speakers, including Five Points Association executive director Amy Beth Franks, Richland County Councilman Seth Rose and Columbia Development Corporation executive director Fred Delk, also said a drive-thru would threaten the character of the neighborhood and the safety of drivers and pedestrians.

“Today is a tipping point,” said Franks, worried that other special exceptions might follow and influence the direction of future development in Five Points.

A few speakers in favor of granting the special exception, including Yesterday’s owner Duncan MacRae, disagreed. McRae said the proposed Zaxby’s would have ample parking and would upgrade the property through renovations.

After about two hours of public comments, the commission voted. After a motion to deny the special exception failed, a motion to grant it passed by a 4-2 vote. Chairman Chuck Salley recused himself.

View the drive-thru plans here

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