No more ‘perfect sites,’ McDonald’s says

By Gail Geraghty
Staff Writer

Tom Dubois faces an uphill battle to convince state environmentalists that “there are no more ‘perfect’ sites” to site a McDonald’s Restaurant than the one the fast-food restaurant chain has chosen in Bridgton.

“I’m not saying we’re going to insist they move . . . but we’re not quite satisfied that nothing else can be done,” Environmental Specialist Bill Bullard said recently of the company’s plans to build a 2,800 square-foot restaurant at the corner of Portland Road and Hancock Lumber Drive. The agency is expected to rule on the project’s application for a Site Development and Location Permit sometime early next year.

The Bridgton Planning Board will take up the application again at its meeting next Tuesday, Dec. 7, at 7 p.m. in the Municipal Center.

Dubois, representing developer Mark Lopez, responded in a Nov. 22 letter to Bullard that each of the alternative sites the Department of Environmental Protection asked them to consider has “constraints and challenges” from a site development perspective.

“There are no more ‘perfect’ sites. For a company like McDonald’s, the issue of demographics, traffic patterns, and the ease of entering and exiting the property are of the utmost importance,” Dubois wrote.  McDonald’s chose the site it did, despite the existence of standing wetlands on the lower portion of 1.75-acre property, because it is on a corner with a signalized traffic light in a commercial area with complementary businesses, he said.

Recharge vs. offsite flow

McDonald’s is being asked to prove to the DEP and Army Corps of Engineers that no reasonable alternative site exists along the Portland Road’s commercial district. Bullard said in a telephone interview that contrary to the developer’s position that the wetlands on the site serve primarily as a “recharge” area to Willett Brook, “more of it (water) is probably leaving the site” than is retained as groundwater recharge.

That’s a concern to the DEP, charged with protecting against pollution in Maine’s water bodies. And it’s a concern to the Lakes Environmental Association, which has come out formally in opposition to the project, in letters submitted to the board and the DEP.

To that end, Dubois, Bullard and Rodney Howe of the Army Corps did a site walk with Dubois in late October, asking him to consider three sites: the former Paris Farmers Union property, abutting Stevens Brook; property adjacent to the Morning Glory Diner and land owned by Lopez at the corner of Routes 117 and 302.

Playing to the strongest customer base

McDonald’s USA LLC Area Real Estate Manager Kevin Feeney, in a Nov. 1 letter, made his case that none of the alternative sites would work for the company. Because Bridgton is a small town, McDonald’s needs to operate where its’ customer base is the strongest, he said, where its customers “are already traveling on the road in connection with going to and from home, work and shopping.”

With Hannaford Supermarket diagonally across the street, and Family Dollar and Dunkin’ Donuts nearby, the proposed corner site lies within “a commercial focal point” that also has a traffic light to allow access and ease with turning movements.

The former Paris Farmers Union site is not suitable, Feeney said, because it is located mid-block and would make left-hand turning difficult. It has a blind spot for traffic, and even though traffic counts are the highest in town there, the difficulty of access would tend to dissuade its “primarily vehicular oriented” customers, he added. The site “would not be in McDonald’s or the town’s interest.” Feeney said.

The same problems exist at the site next to the Morning Glory Diner, Feeney said, “mid-block and difficult left hand turning vehicle movements.”

As for the Lopez land, Feeney said it is too rural, “not the commercial focal point in the community.” Feeney said Lopez’s project “is a new concept by McDonald’s and is referred to as a ‘Small Town Retail’ restaurant.

“It is atypical of what most people consider to be a McDonald’s restaurant” for two reasons, he said. First, it is part of a retail center occupying an end cap bay with drive through window and is much smaller, i.e., 2,800 square feet versus 3,800 square feet, than a free standing McDonald’s. Rather than the usual 76 seats, it has 42 seats.

Bullard said he was the one that brought up the idea that the project might be seen as more favorable by the DEP if the proposal to attach a second building, a 30’-x-50’ retail space, were dropped.

But Fenney said that simply wasn’t feasible, from an economic standpoint.

“It is designed to serve smaller communities such as towns with populations similar to Bridgton, in a responsible, inviting and profitable manner. I can tell you that a freestanding McDonald’s would not be considered for Bridgton, since the ratio of sales to investment costs would be unprofitable to develop and operate.”

Feeney said the restaurant is expected to employ 35-40 full and part time management and staff with a projected payroll of over $400,000, and would pay its share of personal property and real estate taxes to the town.

It’s a balancing act

Bullard said the DEP is not looking to kill the project. “We don’t want to kill the business to protect the resource,” he said. “Certainly, if there are too many hurdles financially, some sites aren’t going to cut it.” The deadline for the DEP’s review is the first part of March.

The concern over pollution is real, he said. “Most of that is tributary to the brook,” he said of the wetlands on Lopez’s proposed site. “More of it is flowing through than is recharge.”

Dubois said he’s done all he can to minimize wetland impacts. “We have moved the entrance along the Hancock driveway away from Route 302, thus also moving the buildings higher onto the site. This allows for a reconfiguration of the parking area, and a shift of the right-turn-only driveway more to the north.” He’s narrowed the right-turn-only entrance as well, “helping reduce wetlands impacts on the southerly side of the project site.” He also narrowed the lanes around the building, and placed the building up to the setback line to the north, further reducing the wetland impacts on the south side.

The net result was a reduction in wetlands impacts from 22,675 to 19,668 square feet, or 13%.

He’s also preserved more wetland in the mitigation site, located near Sandy Creek, 1,000 feet south of Bragg Way and Home Run Road on an existing right-of-way. The eight acres that Lopez is buying there has been reconfigured to include more wetlands, which now total 2.84 acres, meeting DEP rules that an 8:1 ratio be achieved of preserved wetland and adjacent upland.

Bullard said Lopez had the option of paying the DEP an “in lieu of” fee to compensate for the disturbed wetlands, but opted against it because of the $4 a square foot price tag, which in his case would translate to a payment of around $100,000.

“They seemed reluctant to go that route because of the dollar amount,” Bullard said. He said he realizes McDonald’s, and Lopez, have their criteria, but that the DEP has theirs as well.

“It’s a balancing act. It may be premature to say one way or another” what the DEP’s decision will be, “obviously, they’ve got quite a bit invested,” Bullard said. “We’ll see what they say.”

Dubois still has to provide information the DEP has requested on stormwater control, for a separate permit application. He said he expects to submit the flow changes by Dec. 1.

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