That’s in addition to a submitted variance petition filed with the township to build the fast-casual restaurant in the 200 block of West Chocolate Avenue on vacant property owned by the Hershey Trust Co., which manages the Milton Hershey School’s trust fund.
The township’s zoning hearing board will take up the matter Jan. 16 since fast-food restaurants are not a permitted use in the downtown commercial district.
“I’m respectful to the Hershey entities as they are the reason our town prospers. However, I do not believe chain formula fast-food has a place on historic Chocolate Avenue,” said Phil Guarno, owner of Fenicci’s of Hershey and Phillip Arthur’s Old Fashioned Ice Cream.
“We need infrastructure and retail, which is close to impossible to achieve when one entity holds the majority of land,” he said. “I see no foundation for zoning changes since the trust created their own hardship by tearing down the existing restaurant and house that were there originally.”
Guarno said when he bought his restaurant he did so knowing it was protected by certain zoning regulations.
“Although I am a supporter of free enterprise and capitalism, I have always believed everybody must play by the same ground rules,” he said.
Downtown business owners are concerned about increased traffic at the site, which poses safety issues for pedestrians. The impact on property values is another one.
“My concept is preserving, or at least establishing, a historic downtown like our tourists expect,” Guarno said. “Right now it’s becoming a restaurant row and entertainment center. There is no historic element except for The Hershey Story.”
Jessica Demopoulos, who owns the Chocolate Avenue Grill, said granting relief for the Chipotle could open the doors to similar concepts.
“I don’t think the infrastructure is ready for that yet downtown,” she said. “Once we make changes, you can’t go back and say, ‘This is the wrong spot for this business.’”
Dining establishments such as Devon Seafood Grill and Houlihan’s have helped make the downtown area a destination again, she said. Her concern is primarily the proposed location and huge daily turnover at places like Chipotle.
“I am not concerned that my business is going to fail or anything close to that,” Demopoulous said. “We do what we do well. My concern is the safety with traffic and pedestrians at that corner.”
Some are arguing that Hersheypark Drive is already known for having chain restaurants, so the Chipotle would fit in better there.
A petition against the plan had 136 supporters as of 9:15 a.m. Another one in support of the Chipotle in the downtown had 69.
If you go
The hearing will be held at 6 p.m. at the Derry Township Municipal Building on Clearwater Road.