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Will McDonald's Go Colonial?

The architect added some touches to the brick box model, but Planning & Zoning Commissioners want it to be more of a fit for Monroe

McDonald's wants to build a restaurant at 579 Main Street with Rubigo red brick on the front facade and Monteray Taup clapboard on the balance. A cornice would run along the top. But the architectural design is not colonial enough for Planning & Zoning Commissioners.

Commissioners were critical of the computer rendering of the building projected onto a screen inside the Council Chambers of Monroe Town Hall during their hearing Thursday night.

"To put it kindly, when I see this, it looks like a gas station that's been converted," Commissioner Karen Martin said of the boxy design. "I can see where two bays could go there ..."

"We're just looking to soften the building," Chairman Richard Zini said. He said he liked how it has clapboard on the sides, but added of the front of the building, "There's nothing colonial but the brick, and that's a stretch."

Raymond Rizio, the attorney for the applicant, Real Time Investments LLC, and Joseph Lombardi, who does construction for McDonald's, both said they could not deviate from the fast food giant's design.

However, Rizio came back into the room later in the hearing.

"I just talked to the McDonald's people," he said. "We would like the opportunity to request a continuance to see if we can try to take the concerns of the commission and have a more colonial look. I got the message loud and clear. The public wants us to do something different."

Rizio said he will ask the McDonald's corporation what he could do.

Zini expressed the commission's appreciation and told Rizio he did not have to move mountains to soften the building's appearance. The commission then voted to continue the hearing to March 17.

Real Time Investments has applied for a zone change of 1.15 acres on 579 Main Street from a Residential Farming District to a Design Business District 1 and for a special exception permit for the site plan.

The McDonald's would be open 24/7.

Stating his case

Real Time Investments plans to move the boundaries to make a commercial portion of the property used for the restaurant 1.15 acres, rather than using the entire 1.8-acre parcel. The 2.3 acres in the back would remain residential.

The restaurant would be built in the new DB-1 zone and the septic system would be in the residential portion.

Rizio said Monroe's DB-1 zones are typically one acre, so by redrawing the boundary a nonconforming parcel would be conforming to the town's zoning regulations.

"It's good zoning principals," he said. "You try to line it up, so there's consistent development along the street."

Rizio also said 579 Main Street is sandwiched between commercial uses, including Spath-Bjorklund Associates, Inc., the engineer for the applicant, so changing it to a DB-1 would be a natural fit.

"We feel we're consistent with your master plan and consistent with good planning and development," Rizio said. "We're trying to make this a conforming property."

When discussing the special permit application, he said 3,896-square-foot building being proposed was recommended by the Architectural Review Board after about three meetings — though the ARB is only advisory.

The building height could be 35 feet, but Rizio said it would be just over 25 feet adding, "Clearly, we're not overdeveloping the property."

There would be a drive-thru window and 58 parking spaces, which exceeds the minimum of 48 required for the seating capacity of 68 people.

Bill Carbone, an engineer with Spath-Bjorklund, drainage would be maintained on the site with a detention system in the front and the back. All surface drainage would go through a water treatment process called CrystalStream.

"There will be no runoff onto Main Street," Carbone said. "All water will be treated, retained and released into the wetlands."

The landscaping plan would provide habitat for the wetlands area and consist of ornamental plants and evergreens in the front. Carbone said the plantings are meant to be decorative with different textures and colors.

A 'corporate friend'

On Main Street, a left hand turn lane would be added in the north lane, so as not to impede traffic heading in that direction. Carbone said the Connecticut Department of Transportation gave tentative approval for the proposed alteration to the state roadway.

Michael Galante, a traffic consultant with Frederick P. Clark Associates, said accident data on Main Street shows that over 70 percent of crashes are rear-end collisions caused by drivers following too close. He believes the left turn lane would make that less of a hazard.

All traffic on McDonald's property would flow in one direction with an entrance and an exit with two lanes, allowing vehicles to turn left or right onto Main Street.

When asked how the plan would resolve the problem of cars turning left inching out and blocking the vision of a drivers beside them trying to turn right onto Main Street, Galante said there is no solution.

However, he said his analysis found that eliminating the left lane from the exit would pose a bigger safety concern from vehicles turning right, then left into another parking to turn around and get back onto Main Street in the opposite direction.

Galante's studies of three days of peak traffic, with mid-day Saturday being the busiest, found it would take an average of 43 seconds for drivers to make left turns into McDonald's driveway daily on mornings.

The worst case scenario is over a 22-minute wait on a weekday afternoon, but Galante called the result unrealistic, because the model assumes all drivers behave the same way.

Carbone said eight cars would fit in the drive-thru lane.

"McDonald's goal is, by the time you order and receive your food it takes 90 seconds," Rizio said.

"I don't think there's a better corporate friend across the country," he said. "And having a McDonald's here would be a great attribute for the town."

Commissioners' questions

Commissioner Joel Leneker asked why Real Time Properties did not apply to make the entire parcel commercial, so it could be a deeper lot. Rizio said it is open to doing that if that's what the commission wants.

Leneker also asked if the applicant was clear about regulations that do not allow secondary signage for advertising, such as lawn signs and notices on telephone poles. Carbone said former town planner, Dan Tuba, made that clear to them.

Martin said the outdoor lights in the plan were not colonial and Carbone said, "We're willing to consider something that looks more colonial.

Zini told the applicants he would prefer something other than wood being used for fencing around the Dumpster, something more lasting in New England weather.

Commissioner Pat O'Hara asked about the yellow curve on top of the building known as an eyebrow sign. Lombardi said McDonald's is moving the look of its restaurants into the future and that's part of that.

Zini asked what McDonald's would do if people loiter in back of its property and use it as a hangout, behaving loudly and disturbing the neighbors.

Lombardi said there are security cameras outside McDonald's buildings and management would call the Monroe Police Department just as other businesses do when there is a problem.

Zini expressed concern about the landscape plan for the front of the property. He wants plantings that are more lasting, so the grounds look good during all seasons.

"There really isn't something substantial and lasting in front of the building, so it's more Monroe and less like the Post Road in Milford," Zini said.

Rizio said the applicant would agree to submit a revised landscaping plan as a condition of approval.

The applicants became impatient at times over being peppered with questions about the architectural design. Rizio said, trying to put it "as sensitively as possible," that the design was not a zoning issue. Zini said, "Don't go there," citing the commission's planning function.

Now that the revised Plan of Conservation and Development has been approved, Zini said there is an opportunity to require new zoning applications to fit into the character of Monroe.

Public comment

Lee Hossler of Stanley Road is chairman of the Economic Development Commission, but he spoke as an citizen during the public comment portion of the hearing.

He said he thought a commercial zone and a restaurant were appropriate for the property and estimated it would bring in anywhere from $30,000 to $40,000 in tax revenue. The town is also trying to get the Greater Bridgeport Transit Authority to extend bus routes to the industrial park on Pepper Street, and Hossler said having a McDonald's on Main Street should help with the effort.

He added his belief that the fast food restaurant would not pull patrons away form "legitimate" restaurant in the area, such as Carl Anthony's and Vazzy's.

Steve Shapiro of Harvester Road, who is also on the EDC, said McDonald's tends to attract a younger crowd, and expressed concern over traffic safety.

Edward Coffey lives near the McDonald's on Monroe Turnpike. "Not a week goes by that I don't pick up junk from McDonald's," he said. "I don't know who cleans."

Coffey also presented the P&Z Commission with a photo of a more New England looking McDonald's in Vermont. "They can do it," he said of having a colonial design.

"There's nothing colonial about it," Coffey said of the Monroe proposal. "It's just unbelievable. It's a hoax. McDonald's can do better and they know it. They're trying to do it the cheapest way they can get away with."

Kevin Gumpper, an attorney for Duchess restaurant owner Lou Berkowitz, had tried to prevent the hearing from moving forward, because the filing at the Town Clerk's Office did not have a map.

Among his complaints about the application was Galante's estimate on the new traffic the McDonald's would attract, 10.3 percent on weekday mornings and 12.2 percent on Saturday afternoons. "That's astounding," he said.

He also said the Duchess on Main Street is of similar size to the proposed McDonald's and pays $15,000 in town taxes, not the $30,000 to $40,000 Hossler estimated.

Terri Bhatt, a Monroe resident, submitted an e-mail that was read into the record. She mentioned the problem of childhood obesity and encouraged commissioners to read the book Fast Food Nation and to watch the movie Supersize Me, a documentary critical of McDonald's. She urged them to deny the application in favor of a healthier establishment.

Mary Orsillo of Stanley Road said Monroe should think hard and fast about what it wants to look like and suggested McDonald's have a pitched roof and take the yellow eyebrow sign down.

Orsillo said, "I ask that the commission not approve this application unless it is made to look more colonial."

Bridgeport February 19, 2011 at 03:33 AM
Hossler, you say McDonalds will pay 30-40,000 in taxes, I don't believe that in the slightest. Then Rizio said it would be a "great attribute to the town". First and foremost, as Monroe residents we all know that McDonalds is not needed on 25. We have a McDonalds on 111. On top of that we have Duchess about a mile from this proposed sight. I can tell you right now that a majority of people in Monroe aren't sitting around their dinner tables hoping and praying a McDonalds opens so they can have a better meal for the evening. I'm not saying people in Monroe never have the craving for McDonalds or once in awhile or want the ease of just pulling through the drive-in and ordering a quick meal, but we have dealt with those desires for a long time by driving over to 111. The fact of the matter is the reason Real Time Investments wants a McDonalds is because of traffic on Route 25. All the people that use this McDonalds will be passer bys from other areas on the state and region just driving through to get to 95 or 84. And you know what that leaves Monroe with? More and more traffic to deal with, the possibilites of more traffic accidents, and an 24 hour establishment that will most likely cause more harm than good. Why can't Monroe encourage smart economic growth and give the residents of Monroe something they will actually use and that they don't already have. On top of it, they are trying to design this in the cheapest way possible, eyesore. Great!
Mitchell February 19, 2011 at 11:45 AM
Businesses in Monroe are closing at record rates - and the P&Z thinks they can harass a new, large, always successful business about what materials are used to build? GIMME A BREAK !! Their lawyer should have taken a stronger stance and told them they ride the line by some of the things that were said. How many open strip biz stores are there? A LOT. Let these people build and PAY SOME TAXES to MONROE.
barbara February 19, 2011 at 12:58 PM
I agree with "Bridgeport". And what an eyesore that design is!
I am paying attention February 19, 2011 at 01:18 PM
This P&Z board is killing Monroe. Are you kidding me... "Not colonial enough"? Monroe needs businesses to offset our tax base and P&Z is concerned about silly superficial items? This is a McDonalds for crying out loud!!! It's going to look like a McDonalds not a 5 bedroom 4 bath dream home. I mean DAMN! If you want Monroe to grow and gain new bushiness, then the P&Z board either has to resign or change their priorities.
Bridgeport February 19, 2011 at 02:53 PM
The problem is not with the Planning and Zoning Board denying the McDonalds. The McDonalds will be built if it changes it's layout and design. To be honest, Monroe isn't the Post Road or Main Street in Bridgeport, it's small town, suburban Monroe. I think the design of our buildings should reflect that. When I look at the new additions to Clock Tower Square or even the new Dunkin Donuts Plaza, it's a lot more tasteful than what Real Time Investments is proposing. In fact, I'm sick of seeing places like Bart Center and Nagy Brothers, absolutely run down. If you own a property you should upkeep it, but that's just my opinion. It's shameful that Monroe doesn't have stricter regulations on the landscape and layouts of our commericial businesses. And to Michtell and the other comment, McDonalds isn't going to expand our tax base like you think it will. Monroe has for years continously developed strip mall after strip mall, bank after bank and fast food restaurant after restaurant. Yes these establishments pay taxes, but they are minimal and will not take any burden of the taxpayers. Basically we are going to add numerous amounts of traffic and a place for passer bys to stop and grap a bite to eat while they get the hell out of here as fast as possible. It doesn't benefit that taxpayers of Monroe in the slighest. But you're trying to say we shouldnt even be allowed to determine how the places looks? That's why Monroe is going in the direction it is, and has been.
Bridgeport February 19, 2011 at 02:57 PM
Not to mention there were comments at the meeting talking about this McDonalds adding jobs, I believe the same person mentioned we were working to get the GBTA to come up 25 as well. Is Monroe actually taking a look at what it is proposing? A McDonalds will add way more traffic than there already is, then they wanna add a place for GBTA to stop? Where? Where are the busses going to stop that won't lead to even MORE traffic? If this McDonalds is going to add jobs to Monroe residents like this person said, why are they wanting the GBTA to add a stop to this McDonalds? So the residents of Bridgeport or other shoreline communties can come up here and get some Dollar Menu McFlurries? There's already McDonalds down that way. In point, this won't add jobs for Monroe residents, it won't lift the burden of taxpayers. It will however lead to more traffic, congestion and headaches. Think people. Think.
I am paying attention February 19, 2011 at 03:32 PM
I may be the only one here to think this and I will probably be ridiculed for saying this but, I believe that this "small town" mentality is keeping Monroe in the dark ages and prohibiting progress. I am not saying that we should abandon the "small town" ship and turn into a city, but rather change our thinking of where we want to go. We have a high mill rate in Monroe and we do not get a lot for our taxes. In order to help lessen the tax burden we need businesses in town, the bigger the better. As far as placement, I believe that 25 is a tremendous place to put them and we should NOT restrict what the business looks like to the point of "not colonial enough". Rt 25 is our busiest portion of town and needs to grow and expand without the burden of cosmetic restrictions. If you want to keep the "small town" atmosphere fine, but at what cost?
Bridgeport February 19, 2011 at 04:19 PM
McDonalds is not lowering the mill rate in this down. Look, Monroe is full of commericial buinesses and our mill rate is still high, in order to take the burden away from citizens you need extremely large commercial businesses. For example, Swiss Army was perfect. The Jewish Home would be perfect. There was an article in the Monroe Courier yesterday about Daniel Tuba denying what now is Pepper Street and a few small businesses, what could have been a large golf course. If you look at many town, private or semi-private golf courses pay boatloads in taxes because they occupy so much land. That would have been a good idea, if of course studys showed that people would have used it, which I think they would have. We need more of a large business enterprise to lift the burden, not small chain restaurants, they will not lower the Mill Rate overtime unless you build them consistantly. And to be honest, we can't keep building them we are a.) running out of room and b.) already causing to much bottleneck and congestion on the roads as it it. And no offense, but I bought my home here many years ago before a lot of this developlemt and I for one want the town to look appealing. I don't live having to drive around 25 and see eyesore after eyesore, because if you allow it on 25 it will eventually expand into other areas. If the McDonalds is approved, which it most likely will be, I atleast want it to look appealing.
Terri Bhatt February 19, 2011 at 08:23 PM
Amen, Bridgeport. I went on record at this meeting to express my concern that another fast food restaurant will be just one more unhealthy addition that perpetuates the cheap, strip mall aesthetic of our town. I think the mentality of "if they want to pay taxes, let them in" is shortsighted and just plain wrong. For one, as you alluded, fast food restaurants and other small retail establishments will do virtually nothing to impact our mill rate. I agree that the Jewish Home (or businesses similar to Swill Army) are the kind of business we need to attract-- large scale tax payers with minimum disruption to the traffic flow. And second, when a town demonstrates that they DO care about the appearance of the buildings that go up in their community, that sets a tone for attracting the type of businesses that will eventually help the tax base in a meaningful way. "Slap-it-up-and-who-cares-what-it-looks-like" has largely contributed to how we got here in the first place...high mill rate and no real business prospects on the horizon. What's wrong with having a town that looks like maybe we all take pride in living here?
Greg Bruno February 19, 2011 at 08:57 PM
Whatever design RealTime and the commission settle on I am sure the McDonalds will be more "Monroe like"than the Bart Center.Route 25 will not look appealing until the BC is leveled and rebuilt.
New Monroe February 20, 2011 at 01:10 AM
I applaud the Planning and Zoning Commissioners for holding their ground. McDonalds is a multi-billion dollar, multi-national corporation and I'm confident they've had to make architectural design concessions around the world now and again. I don't think they're going to pack up their cheeseburgers and go home - not just yet anyway. I don't see the request to McDonalds to build this establishment in a more colonial style to compliment our town's heritage to be outrageous or the end of negotiations. This is just the beginning of a process and I see no reason that they can't meet in the middle and present a tasteful design that our residents could appreciate. But now for the big question. Just what is a more colonial McDonalds supposed to look like? Perhaps Edward Coffey might post the photo of the McDonalds in Vermont he presented at the meeting? I must say it seems rather clear by his negative comments that he has no use for this establishment in his town and claims the curent proposal is a "hoax". To be accurate, this article claiming that he lives near McDonalds is the real hoax. He's lives several miles away near Masuk and his weekly picking up of McDonalds "junk" is more likely the result of iresponsible residents and highschool students than McDonalds itself. McDonalds property is well maintained and generally free from litter from what I've seen. Maybe it's time for a "Happy Meal" Mr. Coffey. More colonial? Sure, why not. Monroe deserves that.
Chief Waldo February 20, 2011 at 09:05 PM
Rather than another McDonalds, I would much rather see the diner open again. With McDonalds, Dutchess, Subway, Dunkin Donuts, as well as the Lake Zoar Drive-in, Bills, and Mr. Mac's Canteen, we've got 12 fast food places. We don't have a diner. Real Time Investments could save franchise fees, development costs, construction costs, and more, as well as serve the town of Monroe better by giving the McDonalds plan and purchasing the diner.
Kelley HC February 21, 2011 at 03:42 AM
I agree with needing a diner. Stratford has a few and they are always full of happy clientele. Diners appeal to a large variety of people, andd Monroe would benefit from a place to get a nice little meal.
Mike Ganino February 21, 2011 at 03:05 PM
I'm happy to welcome businesses like McDonald's to Monroe...I wish larger businesses would consider Monroe but the fact that we have no sewer system will hold back many of them from coming. Towns like Trumbull and Danbury will continue to grow wisely...they'll get the Jewish Home for the Elderly, the Home Depots and Stew Leonards and along with them the tax revenue...and all we're left with is the traffic from those using our town as a pathway to get to another destination. And yes, I agree with Greg, whatever the agreement on McDonald's will be (and I'm sure there will be one) it will look better than the Bart Center...what an eyesore! That being said, perhaps as important as standards are for new businesses, it's equally important to encourage existing development to have an positive impact on the Town's image.
John and Sandy April 15, 2011 at 07:14 PM
What advantages would a diner bring other than the possibility of late hours and a hang out facility? The old-time genuine diners are a thing of the past. You can visit any "diner" currently in business and you will find higher prices coupled with poor quality product,mediocre service and an absence of personalization. How many eateries can a town of this size house? Addition of restaurants will ultimately take away business from current establishments. Monroe would benefit financially by utilizing the Pepper street industrial park. Bring in corporate and other such businessess so that the current family run restaurants can survive.

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