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Urban McDonald’s in Chicago Could Serve as Model for St. Louis

mcd_chicago3.jpgFast food restaurants, with drive-thru lanes, can fit into an urban streetscape. But, the typical fast food establishment — surrounded by parking — just won’t due anyplace except out in suburbia.

A couple of years ago a McDonald’s on the NE corner of Chicago & State (map) in Chicago was completely replaced by the example shown at right. Architecturally it is no gem. The site planning, however, is a major departure from typical McDonald’s or other fast-food establishments.

This McDonald’s is on a corner site and includes a curb cut onto each street. It does not include any off-street parking, however, it does have a dual drive-thru lane. Cars enter the drive-thru from Chicago. The dual lanes keep traffic from backing up across the public sidewalk and into the street. Cars then make a left behind the building to pick up their orders, exiting onto State.

The corner of the site is an outdoor park/seating area. Customers can eat indoors, outside or take their order to go.

The franchise owner of the McDonald’s on south Grand in St. Louis has made it clear his business relies heavily on drive-thru service and they are seeking to increase that business by relocating. So why have 47 parking spaces? I can’t imagine they will need that many spaces. If the McDonald’s is going to relocate why not move the building to the corner of the site and reduce or eliminate off-street parking?

The McDonald’s in Chicago occupies roughly a third of the land area as the proposed McDonald’s on south Grand. The Chicago example will most likely will do a higher volume of business while occupying less space. That is what urban is all about — getting more from less land. I view the Chicago example as the very least that we should accept in St. Louis.

Photo from A Daily Dose of Architecture. Additional photos on Flickr.


Urbanists Need to Stand Up To Ald. Florida on Future of Grand

It seems 15th Ward Alderwoman Jennifer Florida is upset a committee of the Dutchtown South Community Corporation opposed her new pet project, the relocation of a McDonald’s fast food restaurant. Her letter to the DSCC President Brian Bast and copied to the board:

I think it inappropriate for a subcommittee to oppose or support commercial development no South Grand, an area outside of your neighborhood association.

Appropriate process would prescribe a subcommittee making a recommendation to the Board of Directors. The Board of Directors would vote to make comment of support or opposition regarding development projects in your area. I assume you did not have the support of your Board. I question your process.

I disagree with your reasoning for opposing the overall development of South Grand. I am enclosing my testimony from the conditional use hearing regarding McDonald’s, February 16, 2006.

Oh, Bravo Ms. Florida. This all sounds good except you are in no position to question anyone’s process. As I reported earlier, Ald. Florida shows up at the committee meeting two days before the hearing on the subject without a site plan on the project. She instead attempts to divert attention to the glorious Southside National Bank project already underway. All the while she actually has a copy of the site plan with her but she doesn’t want to show it because she realizes nobody would be happy. And yet she questions the process of this committee?

The fact is the project was submitted to the city more than a month earlier and she had possession of the drawings. She had sufficient time to present full information to the Dutchtown board, but didn’t. The Board was aware the information would be presented to the committee just two days prior to the public hearing.

As far as being outside the neighborhood association that is technically true — by one city block. Dutchtown’s northern boundary is Chippewa, directly across the street from the current McDonald’s and just one block from the proposed site. The DSCC also serves part of the neighborhood known as Gravois Park — the neighborhood where the new McDonald’s is to be located. This is highly appropriate for Dutchtown to speak up.

What is questionable is the Grand-Oak Hill’s support of the relocated McDonald’s. You see, they’ll end up losing the current problem McDonald’s from their area. Also, one has to wonder how influenced they were in their support since they are heavily reliant on Ald. Florida for their operating funds. We also have to question the testimony of 25th Ward Committeewoman Maggie Lampe. She testified at the hearing about questioning Dutchtown’s process but failed to mention her job is funded by Ald. Florida.

Supporting Documents (PDF) for your review:

  • Dutchtown’s Letter
  • Ald. Florida’s Letter to Dutchtown
  • Ald. Florida’s Testimony at Hearing
  • For a counterpoint to Florida’s testimony please read Ald. Craig Schmid’s testimony from the same hearing.

    The residents in the area oppose a drive-thru restaurant on the site of the old Sears. They are part of the 15th Ward (Florida) and 20th Ward (Schmid). Remember that Schmid’s ward is a mere two blocks from the site and only a block from Dutchtown. Ald. Florida is pushing hard for this project over the objections of her constituents. The fact most of her constituents are near Tower Grove Park and probably are not that involved with this far edge of the ward is often overlooked.

    I ask that everyone reading this site email Jennifer Florida and tell her what you think of a low-density fast-food drive-thru in an urban area. If Florida is not your alderman I suggest you contact your alderman as well and tell them you don’t want them deferring to her on this subject. I also ask that everyone email Aldermanic President James Shrewsbury and Mayor Francis Slay. Until these officials hear from us they will continue with business as usual. Feel free to post the text of your emails in the comments section below for all to read.

    – Steve


    The McDonald’s Saga Continues

    This morning’s hearing on the proposed McDonald’s at 3708 S. Grand was interesting to say the least. On one side we had folks from Pyramid, a McDonald’s rep, the McDonald’s franchise owner and Alderman Jennifer Florida. On the other side you me, a number of nearby residents and Alderman Craig Schmid.

    Here is a brief summary:

  • Ald. Florida attempted to put a positive spin on the whole project by calling the proposed McDonald’s “urban-style” and “pedestrian-friendly.” She also said, I kid you not, that the McDonald’s was the “lynchpin for future development occurring” (I thought I was going to lose my breakfast).
  • The franchise owner, James Procter, said they must close their current location at 8pm each night due to crime in the area but they’d like to have the new place open until 11pm. I guess it never occurred to him that perhaps his poorly lit and dirty establishment might the cause of any crime issues (or perception of crime issues) in the area.
  • It was stated that the franchise is up for renewal and McDonald’s is requiring them to rebuild, relocate or close. From a citizen perspective I don’t think our urban planning should be decided based on a franchise agreement.
  • The list of speakers in opposition to the proposal was long. However, the main focus was the conditional use of the drive-thru so I’m not sure how the concerns about trash and such will be taken.
  • Ald. Craig Schmid has been getting some bad press lately over his ideas around loud speakers and liquor licenses. I’ll leave those subjects for another day. On this issue he broke with the time honored practice known as “aldermanic courtesy” and publicly opposed the McDonald’s proposed supported by Ald. Florida. Go Craig!!!
  • The part after the meeting was better than the meeting. I watched as residents had words with Ald. Florida (I always like a free show). Myself and others opposing the project are getting organized for the bigger fight on remaining hearings on the project. Look for the campaign to kick off in the near future!

    Earlier today I was finally able to get a copy of the site plan for the project. OMG, It is worse than I had expected.

  • The site plan includes two 30 ft wide curb cuts along Grand and one 30ft curb cut along Winnebego. A total of three curb cuts!!!! Look for traffic nightmares as people are turning in and out of two cuts along Grand plus Winnebego. This many curb cuts in such a short distance create hazards for pedestrians, cyclists and those of us on scooters.
  • Two “monument” signs. These are the less intrusive type than the tall roadside type. However, at the hearing they indicated only one sign while the drawings indicate two.
  • 47 total parking spaces! The plan shows room for eight cars in the drive-thru lane.
  • The plan is also interesting in what it does not include. The “F” Neighborhood Commercial District requires a number of things before permitting a conditional use when adjacent to a residential district. One item is:

    f. Parking areas shall be screened at all property line with a 10-foot landscaped strip contiguous with or directly across an alley or public or private easement, other than a public street, from any existing residential use or dwelling district. Parking area screens shall consist of a minimum 2-foot high berm and a masonry or wood barrier that is at least 70 percent opaque and not less than 6 feet in height and shall be maintained in good order.

    In this case they show 15 parking spaces along the eastern edge of the site which is across an alley from a residential district. But the plan conveniently omits the required 10-foot landscaped strip along the alley. Out front we’ve got another issue:

    g. A landscape strip not less than 3 feet in width shall be provided along all public streets and shall contain 2-foot high solid landscaping or a masonry wall not less than 2 feet in height except that these elements shall not be required in approved driveways. Street trees shall be installed in the tree lawn, between the public sidewalk and public street, when the tree lawn has sufficient width, or street trees with gates shall be installed in public sidewalks where the sidewalk has sufficient width and is on an earth base with a minimum of 25 feet between trees not including driveways. A minimum of 15% of the lot area shall be landscaped, including screening areas.

    Looks like they might have 3 feet of landscaping at one point out front but barely. No landscaping is indicated on the drawings other than to indicate a few areas as landscaped. Lots of asphalt though!

    The building occupies only 10% of the total site. 10%!!! Sorry, you can’t get any more suburban than that!

    Ald. Florida said the project was “pedestrian-friendly” yet I see no evidence of such. At no point is a sidewalk provided for pedestrians to walk from the public sidewalk to the entrance of the establishment. If you are coming from the neighborhood to the east your only means of entering the site is through the 30-foot wide in/out drive and then walking through the drive area to the front corner of the building. If you are on Grand and wish to enter the restaurant you have the same situation, you must enter the site through the automobile entrance & exit areas. And if you are in a wheelchair you must wheel about 85 feet as if you are heading toward the drive-thru lane before you get to the one ADA ramp. Yeah right, pedestrian friendly my…

    No bicycle parking is indicated either. From the looks of things this does not appear to be any different than a McDonald’s they’d build along a suburban highway exit ramp.

    Once I get the document in PDF format I’ll do another post so everyone can see for themselves.


    Proposed McDonald’s, A Story of Aldermanic Deception & Suburban Design

    Alderman Florida flat out lied. Not an omission of a few details. No sir, a bold faced lie.

    I sat next to Alderman Florida on Monday as the proposed McDonald’s at 3708 S. Grand was discussed before the Commercial District Committee of the Dutchtown South Community Corporation. She claimed to not have any graphics to show the group of the proposal, instead she showed site plans for the nearby Southside National Bank project. Yet, in her possession was a site plan for the McDonald’s project. When questioned on the subject she claimed the site plan she had was not the final plan. Digging a deeper hole she said a current site plan did not exist, that nothing had been submitted. We were puzzled at the idea of a public hearing on the zoning of a drive-thru could be held without a site plan. The truth is it can’t.

    Florida also tried to play dumb on the details of the proposal, claiming she didn’t know if they were using the full site or not.

    Alderman Florida briefly unfolded the site plan and I was able to get a good look at it. The plan uses the full 40,000sf site (approximately 200ft x 200ft), includes new curb cuts on Grand and Winnebego, lots of parking and a drive through. As is typical with these fast food places, the building is set back from both streets with drive lanes between the public sidewalk and building. On the Winnebego side parking, a drive and the drive-thru separate pedestrians from the building.

    Florida described the McDonald’s as an “urban-style” building. Let’s see, we have a large site where roughly 5% of the land will be covered in building with the remaining 95% in asphalt. Plus the building is set back from the sidewalk and is only one-story in height. I’m just not seeing anything to make this urban. Oh yes, I forgot, it has red brick. So taking the standard formula painted concrete block McDonald’s and put some red brick on the place and all of a sudden it is urban? Sorry, I don’t think so.

    Damn, I hate being lied to.

    Right to my face no less!
    … Continue Reading


    Alderwoman Florida To Discuss Proposed McDonald’s

    I recently commented on the land swap that would mean the construction of a new McDonald’s fast-food franchise on the site of the former Sears store on Grand at Winnebego. An upcoming conditional use hearing is reportedly to be held on the 16th but I have not been able to confirm the date, time and place.

    However, I have received word that Ald. Florida will be fielding questions from the folks in Dutchtown:

    As per the request of the DSCC Board of Directors, Alderwoman Jennifer Florida will meet with the DSCC Board of Directors and Commercial District Committee to discuss the McDonald’s on Monday, February 13, 2006 @ 4:30 PM @ Dutchtown South Community Corporation.

    Sunshine Laws require this meeting be open to the public so be sure to attend if you have an interest in this project. The Dutchtown office is located at 4204 Virginia (@ Meramec), 63111 (map)

    In short I feel the McDonald’s should not be allowed to build on the site. The fast food structure surrounded by parking and a drive-thru lane is an incompatible use in an urban environment. This section of Grand is becoming increasingly urban and has the potential to extend the feel of the area to the north. Allowing this former Sears site to become a low-use sprawl project is a careless use of resources that will make it increasingly difficult to finish the residential development directly behind the site.

    But we are not alone in dealing with dreaded drive-thrus.

    McSpotlight.org is a world-wide resource for fighting McDonald’s restaurants. Another great resource is No McDrive-Through!, a Toronto group that successfully prevented a McDonald’s drive-thru from being constructed in their pedestrian neighborhood.

    – Steve