GDA Position / Magazine Street Chipotle

Garden District Association Takes A Stand Against Magazine Street Chipotle

Several weeks ago as reported to you, the national corporation, Chipotle Mexican Grill, applied to the city to open restaurant in the 2800 block of Magazine Street. Aside from holding the required Neighborhood Participation meeting, representatives from Chipotle met with Garden District Association representatives to discuss the concerns about their operation. It seemed apparent that this was a fast food operation, though Chipotle is considered in the food industry to be something called ‘fast casual’. The City’s Director of Safety and Permits determined, upon Chipotle’s request for verification, that Chipotle falls under a Standard Restaurant designation. Under the Magazine Street overlay both fast food and standard restaurants must go through a Conditional Use process.

In these discussions, the GDA Board Of Directors has learned that there are some differences between Chipotle and many other fast food restaurants in that Chipotle does not serve pre-prepared foods, and thus does not use microwaves or freezers; that all of its products are cooked on site. We understand that Chipotle holds itself as something different than a fast food restaurant. It appears to be a very good corporation that all cities would want to embrace.   However, we disagree with the Director of Safety and Permits in his determination that Chipotle be designated a standard restaurant.

While we welcome Chipotle to our city, the board of the Garden District Association must follow its mission in protecting the historic character of the Garden District. Not every business fits in every location. Magazine Street is a significant driving force in affecting the many neighborhoods it abuts, the Garden District being the most famous of those, and one of the few tourist destination neighborhoods in this city. For that reason, the pressure from businesses is intense and our job to protect it that much more important.

Chipotle, obviously, carefully chose this location because it has calculated its potential customers hopping off of the tourist buses, the pedestrian traffic and the strong residential mix of the area. We agree, it has strong potential for most businesses. However, fast-food businesses and those that are perceived by the general public as fast food, especially national fast-food chains, just do not fit within the mixed residential/business environment along Magazine Street that we are charged with protecting. The addition of Chipotle to Magazine street does not add to its character, but, we believe takes away something from the ambiance of this very special, globally-recognized boulevard.

Consequently, the board of the GDA has determined that the GDA will oppose the proposed conditional use at that location. First, the GDA will appeal the designation of Chipotle as a “Standard Restaurant,” as defined in New Orleans’ Comprehensive Zoning Ordinance, because shoe-horning Chipotle’s operating model in this manner blurs the distinction between fast-food and standard restaurants, which creates a slippery slope for other fast-food restaurants to meet this classification, made worse by creating the potential for alcohol sales.

Whether successful in this appeal or not, the GDA will also oppose Chipotle’s application for a conditional use at this location either as a standard or fast-food restaurant for the straight forward reasons already stated. GDA’s position is in no way a criticism of Chipotle. At the same time, that Chipotle is a national, fast-food restaurant chain that does not fit in this unique and historic neighborhood cannot be ignored or explained away.

The GDA is also once again exploring ways to establish additional protections for Magazine Street as it did when it pushed to establish the Magazine Street overlay during the Comprehensive Zoning Ordinance revision process. Unfortunately, at the time of passage, the overlay request was minimized by the City Planning Commission and City Council and very few protections passed. We will move forward in partnering with other affected neighborhoods and organizations in an effort to convince the City Planning Commission and the City Council to take appropriate measures this time around. We look for your support in these efforts.