A McDonald’s restaurant’s relocation quickly bloomed into visions about the transformation of the Fairbanks Avenue business corridor at the Monday, Nov. 14, Winter Park City Commission meeting.
The McDonald’s restaurant currently open at 1008 S. Orlando Ave. is set to move into a new location that spans the width of two properties and the block between two streets, with its main frontage along Fairbanks Avenue just west of where it intersects South Orlando Avenue. It would also abut Gene Street on its south side, giving it two entrances and exits.
With the location already set, just how that McDonald’s new look will affect the rest of the Fairbanks Avenue corridor quickly had commissioners wondering whether the city might be in a fight to keep up appearances down the road.
City staff had already worked with McDonald’s representatives to create a restaurant that fit in aesthetically with the city, with a brick façade, shrubbery and palm tree foliage and other trim to help it blend in. No kids’-eye-grabbing playplace will beckon from the roadside along Fairbanks; a dining patio will be in its place.
“It will make this one of the nicest McDonald’s in the area,” development director Jeff Briggs said. “It is a McDonald’s, but it’ll be one of the best in the chain.”
But with visions of a more urban-looking transformation of the corridor spanning Fairbanks Avenue between South Orlando Avenue and Interstate 4 dancing in their heads, commissioners wondered if the McDonald’s would stick out like a sore thumb just a few years after it was built.
“In effect you’d have a more urban-esque area,” Commissioner Tom McMacken said. “It’d be sticking out as opposed to blending in. It’d be as if we had something on Park Avenue that was totally different. If we were to implement a true streetscape program, I’d think you’d want to be a part of that as opposed to being the only people on the block who didn’t.”
Attorney Rebecca Wilson, representing McDonald’s, said she was worried that a proposed 10 feet of extra easement in front of the property so that the city could build a wider sidewalk and add more landscaping might take out all but the drive-around lane in front of the restaurant.
“We’re just a little concerned about what this easement might look like,” Wilson said. “We’re being asked to give just a blanket 10-foot easement.”
Commissioners agreed that the 10 feet of broader sidewalk and landscaping, intended to make the street more pedestrian-friendly, could set a precedent that could determine how the rest of Fairbanks Avenue would look. What they didn’t agree on was whether the McDonald’s should be the one to set the precedent for a streetscape plan that is only in its early stages.
“I don’t want to set precedent on what we’re going to expect, on this project,” Mayor Ken Bradley said.
McMacken said that whether the city requests the easement now or later, it’ll be the same easement, but it could prove costly if the city waits.
“If we don’t do it now and do it in the future, that’s eminent domain and we’re paying somebody for the right of way,” McMacken said.
“In an effort to make it more beautiful, that may be something they’re willing to give up,” Bradley countered.
“That would be a first,” McMacken said, adding he’d never seen a commercial property owner give up an easement for free.
The request for conditional use passed 5-0, on the condition that the McDonald’s add the improved landscaping, give up a 10-foot utility easement for future undergrounding, and use directional drive-thru speakers to cut down on noise. As for taking the first step in beautifying the streetscape of Fairbanks Avenue, the Commission took a pass.
“The last time we talked about Fairbanks we needed a bigger Commission Chamber, so I would hate for this to be precedent-setting,” Bradley said.