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Mebane city council turns down special zoning for new McDonald’s, 3-2

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Mebane’s city council divided 3-2 Monday night in turning down a rezoning permit for a second McDonald’s, on the north side of the city.

The rezoning was necessary in order to allow the drive-thru component of the fast-food restaurant chain on the 1.06-acre lot at the North First Street entrance into the Oak Manor Market shopping center that is anchored by Food Lion.  Current zoning for the three outparcels at the shopping center is limited to dine-in restaurants.

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An architectural rendering of the new McDonald’s off North First Street. The brown brick facade is intended to match the existing shopping center.  The central issue was the drive-thru on one side of the building.
The 1.06-acre lot which was the subject of the rezoning special use permit request is outlined – to the north (left) of the entrance into the Oak Manor Market shopping center from North First Street.

 

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Changes in dining patterns; more drive-thru customers than eat-in ones

The company’s attorney Patrick L. Byker, relayed to the city council as he had to the planning board last month, that dramatic changes in dining patterns have placed a greater emphasis on the drive-thru business rather than the dine-in option.

Originally about 70 percent of McDonald’s customers would sit in the restaurant, while 30 percent used the drive-thru, Byker explained.  Even before the coronavirus pandemic, Byker said, these statistics had reversed, with about 70 percent using the drive-thru.

Now, the drive-thru is even more dominant, with 80-85 percent using the drive thru, he said.

Another expert noted that a typical McDonald’s now has seating for 35 compared to 89 in the past.

The change in the rezoning to allow a drive-thru would not affect zoning for the other two remaining vacant outparcels, which will continue to carry the prohibition on drive-thrus.

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Critiques – of traffic, compatibility with surrounding area, safety

Councilmen Tim Bradley and Jonathan White led the skeptical questioning about the drive-thru aspect of the company’s request, the sole basis for the request for a special use permit to overturn a 2002 requirement that was placed on the properties when zoning for the shopping center was first approved.

White repeatedly pointed to the presence of the Children’s Garden Montessori School (serving students from 18 months to 6 years old) at a location within the same shopping center across the entrance into the shopping center as adding an element that demonstrated to him a concern both for safety, as well as to whether the rezoning request would be “in harmony” with other nearby uses.

The school occupies one of what had originally been four outparcels (originally occupied by Warren Drugs).

For his part, Bradley voiced concerns and suspicions over the findings of the company’s traffic impact analysis (TIA) that found little impact from the potential addition of the fast-food restaurant with its two drive-thru lanes. He also stressed that he did not believe the new zoning was consistent with residential zoning across the street or the school.

 

Original consideration in December 2002

Bradley had opposed the original rezoning in 2002 that had allowed the shopping center to be built in the first place. It had passed 4-1 over his objection in December 2002.

In order to win support that year (a similar proposal for a shopping center on the same site had been defeated two years previously), the developer agreed to specify that no restaurants with a drive-thru (i.e., fast-food establishments) would be located on any of the four outparcels surrounding the center.

 

Bradley moves to deny special use permit for drive-thru

After about an hour-and-a-half of presentation by the company’s attorney, its appraiser, an engineer, and a representative from the company that did a traffic impact study, interspersed with questions from the council and opposition from three residents, Bradley made the motion to deny the request to change the special use permit to allow a drive-thru restaurant.

Council member Tim Bradley (right) made the motion to deny the rezoning special use permit to allow a McDonald’s with a drive-thru. Council members Katie Burkholder and Montrena Hadley opposed the motion.
Supporting Bradley’s motion to deny the special use permit were councilmen Jonathan White and Sean Ewing.

His motion passed 3-2, with White and councilman Sean Ewing joining in support of the denial and council members Katie Burkholder and Montrena Hadley in opposition to the denial.

Because the proceeding was a quasi-judicial public hearing, public comments are required under state law to be specific and, when assessing future impact, traffic, or property values, must be made by people with credentials to give expert testimony on those subjects. All witnesses and those who might want to speak were sworn in at the beginning of the public hearing.

Staff, witnesses, and residents who wished to speak all had to be sworn in by city clerk Stephanie Shaw.
McDonald’s attorney Patrick L. Byker of Durham

Byker objected to the testimony of each of the three public speakers who spoke against the rezoning: Andy Austin co-owner of the Montessori school; Justin Warren who said he has two children at the school; and Casey Robertson, saying that their testimony was not relevant and/or that they didn’t qualify as “expert witnesses” under the relevant state statute.

Austin focused on the impact – not so much financial – on his school and the parents dropping off and picking up children daily.

Andy Austin, co-owner, Children’s Garden Montessori School, Mebane

Robertson pointed to the economic impact on local eateries from the fast-food behemoth.  He described McDonald’s as a “global corporate giant [which doesn’t] have any problem siphoning revenue away from our own beloved eateries, coffee shops, and hangouts.”  Robertson said McDonald’s would undermine “the unique character and economy of our  community.”

The Children’s Garden Montessori School would be across the entrance into the shopping center from the proposed McDonald’s (as shown above).
The Montessori School is shown from North First Street in this photo.

Byker emphasized that the council’s responsibility was to evaluate the rezoning proposal solely on the basis of the four criteria set forth by the state: to have no adverse impact on public health and safety, no negative impact on the value of surrounding properties, is in harmony with the area, and is in conformity with the city’s plans.

The planning board had voted unanimously, 8-0, for the proposed rezoning.

After the planning board meeting, representatives of the company told The Alamance News their hopeful schedule: to begin construction within 60 days of city council approval, with construction estimated to take about 90 days after that.

In response to a question from The Alamance News on Tuesday after the Monday night public hearing, Byker said, “No decision either way has been made regarding an appeal.”


THE PUBLIC ASKS: Wasn’t there a drive-thru for a former pharmacy on an outparcel at the same shopping center? https://alamancenews.com/wasnt-there-a-drive-thru-at-previous-location-of-pharmacy/

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