Wetland concerns dominate McDonald’s debate

By Gail Geraghty
Staff Writer

Wetlands on the site of the proposed McDonald’s Restaurant took front and center stage Tuesday as the Bridgton Planning Board conducted a public hearing

A STEP UP FROM THE USUAL — Tom Dubois of Main-Land Development Corporation displayed the design for a McDonald’s Restaurant in Bridgton to a crowd of around 35 residents Tuesday. The plans call for clapboard siding, with a cobblestone-style façade on the front of the McDonald’s entrance. Dubois said the style is a step up from most of the strictly brick-façade buildings in the immediate area. (Geraghty Photo)

on the controversial project before a crowd of around 35 people.

Because of the wetlands, which empty into Willett Brook, the state’s Department of Environmental Protection has asked project developer Mark Lopez to investigate alternative sites and to demonstrate why no other Route 302 location nearby would be feasible for the project, slated to be built at the traffic light just east of the Hancock Lumber access road.

Another issue raised repeatedly by residents was whether there really was a need to build an adjoining 2,400 square foot retail space to the restaurant, when there already are numerous vacant retail spaces in town. After nearly two and a half hours of public comment and questions from residents, the board tabled the project for further review at its Dec. 7 meeting.

Lopez’s agent, Tom Dubois of Main-Land Development Corporation, said the siting of the 40-foot by 73-foot restaurant was ideal because traffic slows down to 25 miles an hour near the light, and the property is in a high-visibility location, being diagonally across the street from the Hannaford supermarket. Yes, there are wetlands, he said — but other sites, such as the one the DEP suggested formerly occupied by Paris Farmer’s Union, next to Stevens Brook, present problematic stormwater issues of their own. He will be giving the DEP the additional information it has requested by Nov. 24, and said a decision on their two separate permitting applications before the DEP isn’t expected before January 2011.

The Lakes Environmental Association has come out formally in opposition to the project, in letters submitted to the board and the DEP. The organization argued that wetlands in the area were already “severely impacted” during the building of Hancock Lumber’s retail store upland of the site, and to disrupt more wetland area from the 1.74 acres Lopez has cut out from the original development “circumvents the intent of the Natural Resources Protection Act to protect Maine’s wetlands.”

Dubois said a total of 22,675 square feet of wetlands would be altered by the construction of the building footprint, 35-vehicle parking lot, drive-through lanes and one-way right-turn access road for westbound Route 302 traffic. Eastbound traffic, and vehicles traveling from Willett Road, would enter and exit the restaurant from the Hancock Lumber access road.

DEP staff has determined that the project must also mitigate for an additional 10,127 square feet of wetlands disrupted during construction of the Hancock Lumber yard.

Dubois said Lopez, who was present at the hearing but did not speak, is arranging to purchase eight acres of wetlands near Sandy Creek to serve as the mitigation site. The property is located 1,000 feet south of Brag Way and Home Run Road on an existing right-of-way. To further compensate for any wetland concerns, Dubois said plans are underway to increase the size of actual wetland area within the eight acres to accommodate more of the streambed there.

Planning Board Chairman Steve Collins set the tone for the hearing by asking residents to tailor their comments to address the 24 performance standards the board must approve under its site plan review. He went through them one by one, and some generated little or no comment. Others, however, produced a lively debate.

On vacant retail space: “We think having a McDonald’s will be a serious attraction to another retailer,” who would want to lease space next door to the restaurant, said Dubois. Lopez seeks to maximize the return on his investment with two retail spaces, and it is more efficient to permit for them both at once, rather than adding on to the project later, he said. “It’s a numbers game,” Dubois said. Still, resident Angela Albrecht pointed out that Lopez still hasn’t leased the second retail space he put in alongside the Family Dollar when he built last year, and there are other retail spaces in town, such as the one next to Subway, which remain vacant. “It’s just something to think about,” she said. Dubois took notes. “We’ll take that under advisement,” he said.

On architectural style: Dubois unveiled a revised design showing a cobblestone-sided front entrance for the McDonald’s Restaurant, with brown clapboard siding over the rest of the building. A large curve of gold metal over the front entrance mimics the trademark golden arches, and yellow-and-white striped awnings have been placed at the top of each window. Dubois said the cobblestoned-façade, while different from surrounding buildings and therefore not necessarily harmonious, is “unique,” and fits in better with a small-town environment.

On landscaping: Where are all the trees going that are now on the site? Well, Dubois said, they’ll be cut down in the front and going up the hill, but new ones will be planted. Wherever possible at the property’s boundaries, especially on the south side abutting a residence, the existing wooded buffer will be retained as is. A large filter pond will be constructed along Route 302 to “mimic green space,” while also serving the needs of the stormwater-catch basin system.

On stormwater runoff: Stormwater will be handled via a filter pond system with an underdrain system to deliver it off-site. Some concerns were expressed about handling of snow removal, but Dubois said several locations at the property perimeters have been reserved for this, and should be adequate. “I know what a lot of snow looks like,” he said.

On traffic: The Department of Transportation held a hearing on the project a week ago, Dubois reported, and is requiring some changes to the project. The right-turn-only lane will be narrowed to 14 feet, and the angle will be made sharper. In addition, the entrance to the parking lot from the Hancock Lumber access road will be moved up 125 feet, necessitating that the building also be moved further uphill, another 55 feet. This will require adjustments to the retaining wall at the rear of the parking lot, increasing the impact on the slope. Traffic from both entrances will be directed one-way around the building to the drive-through windows, and Bridgton Fire Chief Glen Garland said he didn’t see any issues regarding access of fire equipment to the property. Several residents had concerns, however, that traffic entering from the one-way access road could become backed up onto Route 302. While a sidewalk will be constructed along the front of the property, there are no plans at present to extend it up the access road into the parking lot, Dubois said. There are also no plans to provide a crosswalk for pedestrians to walk across the highway from Willett Road to go to the restaurant, said Dubois, because there is no sidewalk on the other side of the highway.

On lighting: The parking lot will feature shoebox lights, with the light shining downward, not out, Dubois said. He couldn’t say if the lights will go off after closing hours. He said he expected the hours of operation to be from about 5 a.m. to 11 p.m. The 7-foot by 5-foot McDonald’s sign will be lit with LED lights, not neon, Dubois said, “much more scaled down than usual.”

On water pollution: Scott Finlayson, who is seeking consideration from Bridgton Selectmen for a moratorium on formula-based restaurants in town, wanted the board to table the project because Lopez hasn’t yet provided the DEP and Army Corps of Engineers the information they need. Collins asked for a motion on the tabling, but it died for lack of a second. “They are recommending an alternative site,” Finlayson said, referring to state officials. He said he was also told in phone calls to the state that the site cannot be mitigated properly. Dubois disagreed, saying they’ve simply asked for additional information. “This is a work in progress,” Dubois said. Collins said the board may, at its Dec. 7 meeting, have the option to approve the project, conditional on the receipt of a favorable review by the DEP on the NRPA permit, as well as a permit under the state’s Site Location of Development Law. The application characterizes the wetland portion of the site as a “very saturated, ponded organic material with partial channelization” that serves to retain water for groundwater recharge, and does not empty directly into Willett Brook.

After the hearing was closed, board member Dee Miller made a motion for the board to hold a site walk, as well as to require Dubois to update the original Hancock Lumber plan to DEP and the Department of Inland Fisheries and Wildlife from 2005. “Things have changed,” she said.

Both motions, however, died for lack of a second.

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