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Two years of conflict and debate over a potential McDonald’s restaurant in Oak Park came to an end Tuesday when the City Council unanimously voted to deny an appeal to build the project with a drive-thru.
“I’m pleased that the council stayed focused on the real issue, which was the drive-thru,” Michael Boyd, president of the Oak Park Neighborhood Association, said after the meeting. “They listened to the community, which has spoken so loudly for so many years and wanted to be heard. We’re very grateful.”
Franchise co-owner John Ritchey declined to comment on the denial of his appeal after the council vote, but a representative provided a prepared statement from the Ritchey family.
“We are extremely disappointed with this decision,” Ritchey said in the statement. “Our restaurant would have created much-needed jobs in a community with high unemployment and limited transportation options. It is unfortunate that the council members did not agree.”
The decision from City Council Tuesday sets the stage for Ritchey to either alter design plans to build the project without a drive-thru, or to pursue the matter in court. If Ritchey chooses to build without a drive-thru, the plans could sail through the planning and design process because current zoning rules would allow the project, according to Principal Planner Greg Bitter of the city Community Development Department.
Ritchey and more than 50 supporters for the project were met at City Hall Tuesday by an equal number of protesters opposing the plan to build the drive-thru on the corner of Stockton Boulevard and Second Avenue in Oak Park, across from the UC Davis Med Center.
“It doesn’t have to do with the quality of food or the quality of the company,” Sacramento architect Ron Vrilakas told the City Council. “It’s about what we want the community to become over the long run.”
Vrilakas’ feelings were echoed by many people who attended the meeting, many of whom are part of Healthy Development for Oak Park, a neighborhood group that organized to oppose the McDonald’s.
Protesters came to the meeting armed with signs that read “NO DRIVE-THRU,” and 27 people spoke to the City Council in opposition to the drive-thru during public comment.
“They anticipate 1,000 cars day-in and day-out, 365 days a year for the next 20 years,” said Oak Park resident Chris Bender. “This is not neighborhood enhancement.”
Another 35 people spoke to the City Council in support of the project, largely because of the employment opportunities it would provide.
“McDonald’s hires everyone,” said Oak Park resident and 15-year recovered addict Sherry Hall. “They hire old people, young people, the disabled and people like me who are trying to turn their life around.”
Ritchey’s application for a special permit to build a McDonald’s drive-thru in Oak Park was rejected by the city Planning Commission April 12 because it failed to meet criteria in the city 2030 General Plan.
The city’s General Plan calls for urban corridors to have multi-story and more-intense uses at major intersections with moderate lot coverage and lower-intensity uses adjacent to neighborhoods. The McDonald’s design uses about 10 percent of the lot with the drive-thru being the most prominent feature, according to commission findings.
Margaret Trujillo, area construction manager for McDonald’s, also spoke to the City Council in support of the project on behalf of franchise co-owner, John Ritchey, Jr.
“At the heart of everything we do, there is nothing more important than the trust of our customers and their families,” Trujillo said.
Among the design concessions that Ritchey agreed to, according to Trujillo, were additional signage posted on the property for pedestrian safety, and the addition of a low wall to obscure the glare of headlights from vehicles in drive-thru lanes.
After more than 50 speakers addressed the City Council, members deliberated briefly before voting to deny the appeal.
“This is a question of whether this is the right place at the right time for a drive-thru, and I don’t think this is,” Councilman Jay Schenirer said. “The type of use we put into this corner – which is a gateway to Oak Park – is really important.”
Councilman Kevin McCarty said he agreed with Schenirer, calling the importance of community input “spot-on” on the issue.
“I don’t know that this (McDonald’s drive-thru) is the best fit for this area,” McCarty said. “We need to find something that makes us all proud.”
Opposition to the Oak Park McDonald’s project began in 2010 when community members first realized a McDonald’s was being considered for the Stockton Boulevard/Second Avenue site, and continued for nearly two years.
During a nearly two-hour debate at the April 12 Planning Commission meeting, residents, community activists, doctors and architects voiced unease about the project’s impact on traffic, air quality, walkability, bike safety, land use, adjacent homes and perpetuation of an unhealthy and sedentary lifestyle.
The Planning Commission voted 6-1 to deny the drive-thru permit, and Ritchey immediately filed an appeal to the City Council.
Melissa Corker is a staff reporter for The Sacramento Press. Follow her on Facebook and on Twitter @MelissaCorker.