The controversy surrounding The Meadows construction project flared up again this week after the Friends of Abingdon filed a complaint over a proposed Pal’s Sudden Service location — and its trademark teal building.
It started with a single typewritten letter, delivered to Abingdon’s new town manager, Jimmy Morani, from the Friends of Abingdon, a citizens group launched in 2015 in opposition to The Meadows development along Exit 17. The Friends of Abingdon considered The Meadows — an historic plantation and grounds — a picturesque landmark that deserved preservation, and the organization filed a series of petitions, complaints and lawsuits regarding the construction site. The lawsuit was eventually dismissed, and construction finally began last February.
But the latest volley in the controversy centers on Pal’s Sudden Service, a popular regional chain that announced it would be opening a new location at The Meadows. The town’s Planning Commission approved Pal’s initial proposal on May 20 for a standard Pal’s building design, which includes bright teal paint and larger-than-life sculptures of burgers, hot dogs and fries on top of the building. The site would be the first Pal’s located in Abingdon.
The Friends of Abingdon filed an appeal, asking the Planning Commission to reverse its decision to grant Pal’s a certificate of appropriateness. The town zoning code asks for buildings to be “coordinated,” and the FOA argued that Pal’s signature bright colors and building design would clash with other buildings in the development, which include a flagship Food City store and a number of other tenants.
“The Planning Commission should not have the authority or the right to say, ‘Well, we’re going to enforce them for this guy, and we’re going to waive them for this guy,’” said Friends of Abingdon member Joe LeVine during a break in an Abingdon Town Council meeting last Thursday. LeVine signed the complaint along with four other Friends of Abingdon members.
After the complaint was filed, Pal’s CEO Thom Crosby issued a statement to the Bristol Herald Courier, saying that Pal’s would pull out of the development altogether if the original certificate was not honored.
“The color and design are important elements of the Pal’s brand,” Crosby said in the statement.
Almost all Pal’s locations look identical, with a few exceptions. The earliest buildings, built in 1956 and 1960 on Revere Street and Lynn Garden Drive in Kingsport, are still active and feature a retro walk-thru design. A Pal’s located in the Greeneville Commons in Greeneville, Tennessee, blends in with the other walk-in restaurants in the shopping center. Johnson City also features two distinct Pal’s looks — one is in the interior of the Johnson City Mall, and another added in 2016 on North State of Franklin Road is painted beige and features food sculptures made out of brick to adhere to Johnson City building regulations. Those changes added $250,000 to that building’s construction.
For Abingdon, Pal’s offers significant economic benefits, according to Town Manager Jimmy Morani
“Pal’s is estimated to generate $200,000 to $222,000 sales tax revenue annually for the town,” Morani said. “That is approximately one-third of the annual debt service for the sports complex.”
Additionally, Pal’s estimates that the new location would create 60 jobs for Abingdon.
“We need the development,” Morani said. “The development needs the sports complex.”
The Friends of Abingdon said they were not opposed to Pal’s coming to Abingdon in their letter and that “Pal’s is a well-respected, reputable company that would be an asset to Abingdon and generate tax revenue.”
“I want the Pal’s to be built in Abingdon,” said LeVine. “… But I think it’s just a mistake to violate ordinances. Everybody should be treated equally by the town.”
The Abingdon Town Council has scheduled a public hearing on how to proceed, which will take place on Monday, July 1, at 6:30 p.m. in Town Hall.
The story has already generated huge interest online, so robust attendance is expected at Monday’s hearing.
“I think you can just take a look on Facebook. It’s public hearing all over Facebook today,” Town Councilman Derek Webb said at a work session on Thursday. “People are talking about burning trash cans if we don’t get Pal’s — and angry mobs. Seriously, have you read it?”