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In Historic Annapolis, Chipotle will be a burr(ito) in Moe's side

More than a year ago we wrote about a zoning dispute between local eatery Moe's Southwest Grill and national fast-casual chain Chipotle Mexican Grill (see here). The matter is still not settled, though it is a step closer to the finish line.

Chipotle is planning to open a restaurant in Market Space in historic Annapolis, and, like other Chipotle sites, this one wants to serve alcohol. The city's Board of Appeals had granted an exception to the zoning ordinance to the coffee shop/bookshop that had occupied the space, and Chipotle wanted a similar accommodation.

Zoning exceptions can be very specific, and this one seemed to have been tailored to the coffee shop's unique needs. Chipotle wanted just part of the exception -- the permission to sell liquor -- though. It did not want to add seating in the dining area, and it did not want to have to sell books.

Moe's, located just down the street from the proposed restaurant, argued that Chipotle falls into the city's definition of a fast-food restaurant and, so, should be barred from historic Annapolis without an additional special exception. Fast-food restaurants, for example, use disposable utensils; Chipotle restaurants typically use disposable utensils.

At the hearing, Chipotle said it would meet the requirement by installing a dishwasher and, as one board member put it, "using plates, as we know plates, and using silverware as we know it to be." The board granted Chipotle the exception.

Moe's took the case to court. This time, the restaurant -- also a franchise -- argued that having the Chipotle in Market Space would cause hardships for Moe's. The addition to the neighborhood would cause traffic and parking problems and increase noise and litter in the area.

Chipotle countered that the argument was a smoke screen: Moe's simply did not want the competition. And, Chipotle's counsel said, Moe's is a tenant, not a property owner, so the restaurant lacks standing to sue over a zoning decision.

This week, the court upheld the zoning exception.

Chipotle had held off on building out the space until the court had ruled; construction may start soon. Moe's -- operated by franchisee A Guy Named Moe LLC -- said it plans to appeal.

Source: Capital Gazette, "Downtown Annapolis burrito brawl in legal limbo," Elisha Sauers, Dec. 17, 2013

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