Altering face of fast food

The new Bojangles' at U.S. Highway 17 and Main Road went through Charleston's Commercial Corridor Design Review, which required the chain to move away from its stock design and add other touches, such as this brick fence that screens the parking lot.

MOUNT PLEASANT -- Most people who don't like America's suburbs have a long and legitimate list of complaints.

These gripes include: Many buildings waste land; they're too homogenous; they're solely car-oriented; and they simply look cheap.

But now that many cities and towns have some architectural review process that scrutinizes new development -- at least significant buildings on major highways -- things are beginning to change.

It's not that new suburban development is looking urban like downtown Charleston, but it is beginning to address, with success, some of the gripes.

Take the two new Bojangles' restaurants here and at U.S. Highway 17 and Main Road.

The Mount Pleasant restaurant at 1644 U.S. Highway 17 involved a remodeling of an inexpensive retail store that was built with a single width of concrete block.

Richard Gowe of LS3P Associates Ltd., who worked on the design with architect Brian Wurst, improved it by removing a large, awkward porte-cochere out front and by extending the building's block walls up about five feet to screen the heating and air conditioning units on top.

Gowe says the design also included a series of windows larger than found in most fast food restaurants, as well as an outdoor eating space.

But the real achievement here might be the extensive site work, which included planting about 45 new trees on the one-acre site. J.R. Kramer, a landscape architect with Remark of North Charleston, also created three bioswales -- low areas that not only collect rainwater but also hold and filter it.

Kramer says all new plants are native and not only provide a sense of place and wildlife habitat, but they also change with the seasons and need less water and pruning.

River birch trees on the western end provide shade in the summer but lose their leaves in the winter and allow sun to hit the building.

"We integrated stormwater with landscape architecture," Kramer says. "This is the future."

The Bojangles' in southern Charleston went before that city's Commercial Corridor Design Review Board, which -- like Mount Pleasant --required a taller parapet to shield mechanical equipment as well as larger windows in the dining area.

The city also required the chain to use a more muted shade of its trademark orange. While its plantings aren't nearly as elaborate as those in the Mount Pleasant restaurant, the site is bordered by a handsome new brick wall that screens the parking lot.

"Because the parking lot is raised, it works pretty well," Gowe says. "With review boards, all 360 degrees of the site have to be addressed."

Of course, this comes at a cost.

Kevin Archer of K-Bo, Inc., which developed the Bojangles', estimates the review boards added about 27 percent to the cost of designing and building the two restaurants.

"It's not a small number," Gowe says of 27 percent. "I have out of town people (saying) we are concerned about design review boards."

But Archer also concedes they're attracting more business, because the stores look more upscale and inviting.

"With review boards, it takes longer but the results are superior," Gowe says. "You have to acknowledge that."

One update: Plans to display the winners of the Charleston transportation hub architectural contest at Calhoun and King streets (which I wrote about Nov. 29) have been nixed. The Charleston chapter of Architecture for Humanity, which sponsored the contest, is looking for a new venue. When it finds one, I'll mention it here.

Robert Behre may be reached at 937-5771 or by fax at 937-5579. His e-mail address is rbehre@postandcourier.com, and his mailing address is 134 Columbus St., Charleston, SC 29403.