IHOP Moves Forward on Plans for Rochester Rd.

by CINDY KMETT

After being tossed around at the Troy Planning Commission for the past year, it looks like IHOP and Panda Express just might be new tenants at the corner of Rochester Rd and Big Beaver at this time next year. While they still need Troy City Council’s approval because this is conditional rezoning – which means they can’t sell the land to a gas station or some other business type not approved – it looks like their problems are now almost behind them.

One thing the planners had not liked was the corporate brand look for the Panda Express that would be on the site of the former Mr. Pita location. But the Trinity Restaurant Group, which operates 13 other IHOPs, talked the corporate officials at Panda Express into a major upgrade of the exterior, which will make it more compatible with the IHOP façade and have a coordinated color scheme.

And then there was drainage for the parking lot. How much water would there be standing in the parking lot after a heavy rain? It seems the water table here is at three to four feet, which is very high, and the soil is clay (no surprise in Troy). The civic engineer Jessica Chehab explained a new drainage system that will be installed, catching debris and sending out clear water. While it will need to be cleaned about once a year by the same kind of system the city uses to clean our roads catch basins, it should avoid a flooded parking lot.

Parking, however, had been the planners’ major concern on this site. There are only 120 parking spaces provided, which is 35 short of the ordinance requirement. While there was apparently enough parking for IHOP, when Panda Express was added to the mix, they came up far short.

IHOP had done major parking studies and had given Troy all its data from other restaurants and the city’s parking consultant, OHM, also had the data, including the proprietary information of how much money they were taking in at all their restaurants every hour of the day. They picked three similar restaurants to compare. The city and the city’s consultant agreed with the IHOP analysis that 120 spaces would work.

It appears we all go to IHOP for breakfast and visits are heaviest on weekends, especially Sunday from 10 a.m. to 1 p.m. and much less parking is used after 2 p.m. And, that is not prime time at Panda Express.

Several Planning Commission members questioned the validity of the studies, so all the studies were given a second look. Troy’s consultant, OHM, wrote to Troy’s Traffic Engineer Bill Huotari that the revised study “adheres to accepted traffic engineering practices.” OHM recommended approval, subject to the parking variance being non-transferable. That’s because IHOP’s busiest days and time not those of a typical family restaurant, which would require more parking.

This seemed to satisfy all the planners except Mike Hutson, who apparently wanted a 24-hour a day parking study and this one stopped at 1 p.m., which is when IHOP’s financial records showed restaurant traffic slowed down considerably. He was reminded that restaurant owners like to have parking enough for all their customers and since there’s no off-site parking near here, they would just lose customers if there’s no parking available. Hutson still voted “no” with the rest of the planners voting to approve the site plan.

Now it’s on to Troy City Council. But there’s been little protest against this renovation, and some real interest in seeing an IHOP in Troy. Planning Commission student representative Claire Hao was asked how she felt about IHOP and Panda Express and noted you have to drive a half hour to IHOP now and her friends can hardly wait to have one, along with a Panda Express, in Troy.