"I state the obvious when I tell you that this is simply a competitor that doesn’t want to see a competitive business come to town," Chipotle attorney Alan Hyatt said. "I think we are entitled to the special exception, and this is a pretty flimsy opposition."
Chipotle is asking the Board of Appeals for permission to take over the location's current special exception, owned by Hard Bean Coffee and Booksellers, to be a standard restaurant that serves alcohol.
The national burrito chain wants the board to approve two major modifications to that exception: eliminate the bookstore element and expand seating by 38 percent.
The opposition's argument is that Chipotle is fast food, and Annapolis wrote its city code to prevent fast food chains from opening in the historic district.
Regulations require standard restaurants to provide reusable silverware and generate no more than 10 percent in profits from takeout sales.
"They may be an elite fast food restaurant; they may be one of the more environmentally friendly and sustainable fast food restaurants, but they are still a fast food restaurant," said Shep Tullier, a land-use consultant hired by Moe's, located nearby on Dock Street. "I believe that they will far exceed the 10 percent carryout. How do you stop a customer and make a customer eat in?"
Hyatt countered by saying this is a question of enforcement and not a question of Chipotle's ability to meet the requirements for a special exception.
Board member James Gregory took the argument one step further.
"You mentioned that Chipotle describes their concept as fast casual. How does Moe’s describe their concept?" Gregory asked. "[Moe's] description is fast casual. That’s what it says on their website."
Gregory, who has served on the board for eight years, was one of the members who granted Moe's their permission to open on Dock Street in 2005. He said Moe's made similar promises about providing silverware and staying under the 10 percent carryout limit.
"My point here is that you’ve raised these points about Chipotle and we granted Moe's a special exception under the assumption that they would abide by the same rules," Gregory said. "Were we wrong in granting that same special exception for Moe’s?"
Tullier said the difference is that he doesn't believe amending Hard Bean's exception is permissible. The coffee shop asked to become a standard restaurant so that it could serve shots of alcohol with customers' coffee orders.
Chipotle plans to invest $900,000 to gut and transform the space, and Tullier said it's unfair and disingenuous "for this application to come in under the guise of amending an application of a coffee store with no kitchen."
He also noted that foot traffic to Market Space could greatly increase because Chipotle would attract more customers than Hard Bean. Tullier cited a 2011 annual report from Chipotle that touts its ability to serve up to 300 customers per hour.
He said increased traffic, noise and trash would be detrimental to the neighborhood—a point raised by several area residents during the board's first meeting on the subject.
Hyatt conceded that some Chipotle locations can serve one customer every 12 seconds, but he said few stores do that and it's not a companywide goal. Hyatt said Chipotle believes it can be successful at the Market Space location while adhering to all city code requirements.
The board will decide on the case at its January 2013 meeting.
If Chipotle wins its special exception, Hyatt said the company could be serving burritos downtown before the end of 2013.
- Chipotle Applies For Liquor License Downtown
- Chipotle Wants Hard Bean Coffee Location Downtown