SALT LAKE CITY – A small Utah town outside Zion National Park has repealed a ban on chain restaurants, clearing the way for one of the country's biggest fast food chains to open amid Springdale's mom-and-pop restaurants.
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Resident Jack Fotheringham and his business partners have been trying to open a Subway sandwich shop since 2006, all while fighting with the town over a law passed that same year barring chain restaurants.
The town banned "formula" restaurants, or those that use packaging, preparation methods, signs, uniforms, decorations or menu items that are identical to at any other location.
Fotheringham believes the 2006 ordinance was written specifically to keep the Subway from opening. Springdale Mayor Stan Smith said the ordinance was already in the works.
"It was put in place to protect the character and the feel of Springdale," Smith said. "The restaurants are unique and individual and something you can't get someplace else, and the residents felt strongly about that."
Smith said the town is concerned about preserving its village feel with "parkitecture" free of tall buildings and neon signs that would distract from Zion's towering red sandstone cliffs. As visitors pour through town on the way to Utah's most popular national park, town leaders want them to stop and try out unique local restaurants, he said.
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Around the U.S., a handful of towns have passed similar restrictions on chain restaurants or stores. Some town ordinances haven't faced legal challenges. Restrictions in other communities, such as the Florida Keys town of Islamorada, have been overturned by courts.
In 2010, Fotheringham and his business partners sued Springdale officials in a federal lawsuit, arguing they were being discriminated against and the town's ordinance was unconstitutional.
The legal battle dragged on for more than five years, but town officials decided this year that the ordinance was becoming increasingly difficult to defend. The town's insurance carrier also threatened to drop their coverage because the law left them vulnerable to continued legal costs.
This summer, Springdale settled the case by paying Fotheringham's group a $787,500 settlement and repealing the law.
"We were set to take it all the way to a ruling, but at this point, we're just glad it's over and we're happy to be opening," Fotheringham said. He added that the Subway would likely open sometime in the next month.
Fotheringham said they've had signs up in the restaurant's window advertising the potential Subway for years, and every day tourists stop by looking to buy sandwiches at the closed shop. "The Subway has been ready to open for the last six years, and it hasn't stopped anybody from coming here," he said.
Smith said he doesn't know if the Subway will open the floodgates for more chain restaurants. But he said the town is exploring other ways to preserve its feel, such as reinforcing rules about building architecture and designs.
"We like Springdale the way it is," he said. "It's a unique little town and the ordinances are difficult in Springdale, and that's for a reason."