The Columbia Board of Zoning Appeals has approved a fast food restaurant for the old Harper’s location in Five Points.
The board voted 4-2 Tuesday that Zaxby’s could locate a restaurant there with a drive-thru window. Board chairman Chuck Salley did not vote to grant a special exception because he works at the commercial real estate brokerage that represents Zaxby’s.
The drive-thru was opposed by the Five Points Association and some neighborhood groups as marring the character of the lower part of the funky urban village near the University of South Carolina.
“It’s very disappointing,” said Seth Rose, who represents Five Points on Richland County Council. “It represents a major blow to the village feel of Five Points.”
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Attorney Dick Harpootlian, who lives in nearby Wales Garden, said he and other residents plan to appeal the decision in state Circuit Court.
“We are fighting everyday to retain the character of Five Points,” said Harpootlian, one of Columbia’s leading attorneys, a former prosecutor and former chairman of the state Democratic Party. “This is a disaster.”
Another lawyer, Toby Ward, who has an office in Five Points, said the appeal would focus on what he claims was the board’s failure to adhere to eight criteria needed for a special exception. Specifically, Ward said, the board did not consider that the drive thru would change the character of the village and that the public interest would not be served.
“If you open the door for one, you open the door for all,” Ward said. “I don’t want Five Points to look like Two Notch Road or Garner’s Ferry.”
Building owner John Scarborough noted that the Harper’s building was home to a fast food restaurant called D’Lites from 1984 to 1990. It was built with a drive-thru window.
Scarborough said the new drive-thru lane would mirror the previous one, which has ingress and egress from Santee and Harden, with a long looping lane to absorb the cars.
But the vast majority of those who spoke at the nearly 2 1/2 -hour hearing at Columbia City Hall opposed the drive-thru, saying it did not conform to the pedestrian nature of the village or the guidelines of the “FutureFive” master plan adopted by City Council about a decade ago.
Harper’s, which served steaks, barbecue and American fare for 27 years, was the second high-end dining location to close in the urban village near the University of South Carolina in recent years. Garibaldi’s, a white-tablecloth Italian and seafood restaurant, closed in 2015.
In May, two other restaurants — El Burrito and Rise Gourmet Goods and Bakeshop — also closed.
Zaxby’s franchisees, Britt and Jim Poston of Florence, own 19 franchises in South Carolina, including the stores on Knox Abbott Drive in Cayce and on Beltline Boulevard near Richland Mall. They have stores in Myrtle Beach, Florence, Sumter and Orangeburg as well as Columbia.
Scarborough said that after aggressively marketing to restaurant groups from around the region, the choice came down to Zaxby’s, a bank or a college bar.
“They were the only ones who stepped up to the plate,” he said.