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."
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.
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."