session on Sept. 3 drew to close, board chairman Victor Singer
pressed the company's project manager, Michael Carr, about
whether that intent was "fixed." After several repetitions of
the question, Carr responded affirmatively, explaining that the
fast-food business is "very competitive these days" and that the
company wants "to stand out [and] be known as McDonald's."
McDonald's 'classic' is largely a copy of what much of the
original the chain looked like in the 1950s -- complete with a
brightly painted red-and-white exterior and 'golden arches'
extending above the roof on both sides -- modified to include
such current features as drive-up windows. There is no intent to
go back to '50s menus or prices.
earlier in the hearing, "This is the building we are proposing
for the site."
an indication, however, that the Department of Land Use, which
has the final say in whether a redevelopment proposal such as
McDonald's can go forward, might require the company to rethink
that position in consultation with community leaders and
organizations. Charles Baker, general manager of the department,
said that the intent of the redevelopment ordinance -- which he
was instrumental in drafting -- is to "have applicants work with
the community to develop a [mutually] beneficial plan" which
addresses "what [is] really important to their neighbors."
hearing was told that did not happen with regard to the pending
application. Carr said that McDonald's developed its plan after
consulting with the land use department and had presented it as
a completed proposal at meetings of the Claymont Community
Coalition and the Claymont Renaissance committee in August.
George Lossé, president of the coalition, testified that was the
first airing of the plan. "They came in and said, 'This is what
we're presenting and it meets all the requirements [of the law]
and that's it'," he said.
is based in suburban Philadelphia, apologized for not informing
Thomas Comitta, the Claymont Renaissance town-planning
consultant, but said that he was unaware that formal
consultation with community organizations and leaders was
required by the law. He acknowledged that the August meetings
were the only public presentations of the proposal, but added
that the company had spoken with neighboring property owners.
Nick Roberts, who lives around the corner on Grubbs Landing
Road, testified that he was not contacted.
attempted to defuse the architectural issue by claiming before
public testimony was taken that it was irrelevant to the
company's application to tear down the existing company-owned
and -managed building, which dates back to 1979, and put up a
new one while bringing the property into closer conformity with
present-day standards set by the Unified Development Code.
Having been turned down on a similar propose when it sought
several enabling variances from the Board of Adjustment in 2000,
McDonald's has reapplied under the redevelopment ordinance
amendments to the code enacted early this year.
member Mark Weinberg took issue with that position, saying that
the amended code requires "weighing various [property
improvement] elements against community desires" and that,
although not specifically stated in the code, architectural
features are a legitimate part of that evaluation. "What the
site looks like is certainly relevant," he said.
timed to the hearing was a last-minute publicity effort to
promote the nostalgic appeal of a 'classic' restaurant and to
insist that they are proving popular where they have been added
to the chain.
got Carr to acknowledge that there are about 50 of that kind,
out of a total of 17,000 company-owned and franchised outlets,
around the country. He had told the earlier Claymont meetings
that there were about a dozen. That, Weinberg said, shows "there
is nothing that said all McDonald's have to look alike."
said, "We've seen buildings they've designed to suit other
places. Why not [in] Claymont?"
describing the importance of a '50s look in McDonald's marketing
scheme, Carr admitted that he had not, in Singer's words, "look[ed]
up the financial performances" of outlets in Maryland and New
Jersey which objectors had cited as examples of architectural
styles they consider more in keeping with what the Claymont
Renaissance effort envisions for a redeveloped Philadelphia
maintained that "our customers like that [style] and would like
to see [such a building] go up." He said 150 supporters had
signed a 'petition' to that effect at the Claymont
No one at
the hearing except Carr and the company's engineer, Michael
Jeigner, spoke in favor of the proposal.
to usual practice at such sessions, the strongest criticism came
from Planning Board member Joseph Maloney, who told Carr his
attitude was "nothing but cavalier" and described him as "a
perfect example of corporate arrogance."
should make an effort to get along with these people," Maloney
of Claymont residents who testified were more restrained in
their criticism. In fact, apart from its architectural features,
they seemed to endorse the overall plan. "We don't have any
problem with the [proposed] improvements," Lossé said.
not against McDonald's. We don't want to lose McDonald's [or]
any of our businesses," he said. "The kids in Claymont would
hate me if I kicked McDonald's out."
Lavelle, zoning chairman of the Council of Civic Organizations
of Brandywine Hundred, supported the coalition's position,
testifying that the planned design "is going to result in a
future hardship to the community."
be a fad when it is built, but in future years it's going to be
an eyesore," said resident Brett Saddler.
Whildin suggested that McDonald's borrow a page from competitor
Burger King's sales pitch and tell the community, "You can have
it your way."
concurrent theme at the hearing was the slowly emerging but
still unclear process for dealing with redevelopment petitions.
The McDonald's application is only the third to come forward and
is the first to involve controversy.
McDonald's petition claimed credit for elements of the proposal
resulting in a '1,487% improvement' to the site. Board member
Fritz Griesinger pointed out that 800% evidently would be gained
by landscaping. "You're getting an awful lot for [planting] five
trees," he said.
calls for measuring proposals which improve a property but do
not bring it up to code standards by totaling percentages of how
close improvements come to meeting minimum standards in
categories related to such things as setbacks,
buffer zones, parking, landscaping, stormwater management and
the like. The minimum requirement is 400 percentage points, with
the understanding that, theoretically, no single element can be
improved greater than 100% and, therefore, four elements must be
improved. McDonald's, however, claimed credits of as much as
300% in some categories.
Griesinger said he interpreted the law to mean that an applicant
had to come up to code standard in at least four categories but
that was not the consensus of other board members.
acknowledged to Delaforum that, in addition to its obvious
semantics problem, the measurement system does not actually
measure improvement. If, for instance, a given element, such as
the number of parking spaces, is presently 50% of what the code
requires and the proposal improves that to 60%, the applicant
can claim credit for 60%, not 10%.
from that, he told the hearing, "I don't think we're in complete
agreement with [McDonald's] calculations." He did not elaborate.
department has the final say over whether a redevelopment
proposal can go forward. The Planning Board's role apparently is
limited to providing a forum for compiling an official record of
opinions regarding proposals. Singer noted that the law does not
require it to make a recommendation for or against approval of a
plan but that it evidently is free to do so if it wishes.
McDonald's plans to replace an existing nonconforming structure
of about 4,000 square feet, including basement, with one having
3,456 square feet, and no basement, it is being handled as a
minor subdivision plan, which does not require County Council
unclear how it is meant for the public to keep track of
proposals as they move though the approval process. Baker told
Delaforum that the department's decisions are
filed in the recorder of deeds' office. Apparently no public
announcements are to be made and the department's public
information officer said it would be impractical to issue them
for every case that goes through the department or to determine
which applications were of sufficient public interest to justify