It started out as a nondescript building suited for drive-through traffic, the kind of structure that might be found at a highway exit or a strip mall rather than in the heart of a city neighborhood.
But the newly rebuilt KFC that opened on Hartford's Farmington Avenue this month is a textbook example of how collaborative planning by all involved — the developer, city and neighborhood — can yield good results.
The new restaurant does a lot more than sell chicken. It fills in a gap in the neighborhood's streetscape, positively adding to the aesthetic of Farmington Avenue.
Here's what happened.
KFC brought a concept plan to replace a worn-out 1970s-era restaurant to city officials. KFC owner David Hines had operated the chicken franchise on Farmington Avenue for decades. Hartford's planning department, as is its practice, recommended that the developer consult the neighborhood on the plan.
Well, we hated it. It was a typical shoebox, a fast-food footprint with the narrow part of the building facing the street. The building was also placed in the middle of the lot, leaving large gaps between the adjacent buildings — one a massive two-story brick building, the other a three-level former residence.
So the neighbors started working with the KFC designer, Gwen Ashbaugh, who was fantastic. She reviewed neighborhood plans and listened to what residents had to say. A plan developed by the Farmington Avenue Alliance and adopted by the city called for commercial frontage with more connectivity among buildings, a better walking environment for people.
As a result of neighborhood input, KFC turned the building sideways so that it would fill up the frontage of the lot and consolidated two driveways into one. KFC was able to use most its original building plan but needed to tweak it slightly to relocate its coolers.
The original design did not have a front door on Farmington Avenue. Fast food restaurants generally serve people arriving by car, not on foot. The neighbors asked for a front door and to place the restaurant at the building line, as close to the street as possible.
This change would put the vestibule over the front entrance closer to the street, so it necessitated a zoning variance. With neighborhood support, Hines was willing to do that and the variance sailed through smoothly.
Neighbors asked for a brick facade rather than efis — an inexpensive stucco-like finish. The owner said no on the brick, but the city's Design Review Board asked again and got a positive response.
As the project evolved, environmentally friendly features were built in. The designer used permeable pavers and directed stormwater runoff into planters on site as much as possible, rather than piping it into the city's sometimes overtaxed stormwater system.
Two bright red bike racks were installed and the owner granted an easement and financed a bus shelter on his property. This allowed bus stop consolidation on the avenue and relocation of the problematic stop at the nearby Sisson Avenue corner.
Rebuilding the KFC also removed front yard parking, about eight spaces that used to exist in front of KFC and an adjoining business, making the avenue safer for pedestrians. The city no longer allows pull-in parking in front of the building line in new developments on Farmington Avenue (KFC parking now is in the rear).
Though collaborative effort, what began as ill-suited design for Hartford's West End ended in a building that fits the scale and architecture of the neighborhood.
Reprinted with permission of the Hartford Courant.
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