Watertown Planning Board rejects McDonald’s proposal

A resident addresses the Watertown city Planning Board on Tuesday about the proposed zoning change to accommodate a proposed McDonald’s restaurant. Amanda Morrison / NNY Business

A resident addresses the Watertown city Planning Board on Tuesday about the proposed zoning change to accommodate a proposed McDonald’s restaurant. Amanda Morrison / NNY Business

A bunch of Chestnut Street residents weren’t loving it.

The city’s Planning Board unanimously turned down a zoning change Tuesday that would have allowed a McDonald’s restaurant to be built at Washington and Chestnut streets after about 35 residents came out in opposition.

The issue still must be decided by a vote from the Watertown City Council, which is expected to hold a public hearing June 2 on the proposal.

Sphere Development, Manlius, has proposed constructing a McDonald’s on a 0.65-acre site currently occupied by the Performance Automotive repair shop, next to the Sunoco gas station and convenience store. A house at 111 Chestnut St., owned by Susan Burker, would be demolished to make way for the restaurant.

“I think McDonald’s is a wonderful organization. I just don’t think it should be there,” Planning Board Linda J. Fields said before her vote.

On Tuesday, 10 people spoke against the project at the Planning Board meeting, saying they had concerns about increases in traffic, trash and noise and a decline in property values.

The fast-food restaurant would change the character of their neighborhood, they said.

They also expressed concerns about child obesity, given that Watertown High School and Case Middle School are right across the street from the proposed site at 1200 Washington St., owned by Ann Marie Marra Fiorentino.

Board members echoed those concerns, voting 6-0 in opposition.

The Planning Board rejected a zoning change for the Chestnut Street residence, from Residence A to Neighborhood Business, for the project to proceed.

With his property about 20 feet away, Michael J. Corbett, who lives at 119 Chestnut St., would see the drive-up window if he looked out his dining room window, he told the Planning Board.

“Chestnut Street would no longer be an attractive neighborhood to live,” he said.

The national chain, whose most recent advertising slogan is “I’m loving it,” already has larger restaurants in Watertown on Arsenal and State streets.

Both have gone through complete upgrades in recent years.

After the meeting, Gregory S. Widrick, co-owner of Sphere Development, said he expected the vote might not go his way, after planners rejected an expansion at the Sunoco station two years ago.

An attorney, Mr. Widrick said his firm could take legal action, known as an Article 78 proceeding, to challenge the city’s decision, but he would not say whether it would file the lawsuit.

“I cannot answer that at this time,” he said.

The developers proposed a 3,900-square-foot restaurant with a single drive-up window, 22 parking spots, a one-way entrance and exit onto Washington Street and an entrance-exit on Chestnut Street.

Before the vote, McDonald’s representatives did the best they could to sway the Planning Board. They contended that traffic would increase by only about 1 percent because most of its customers would live in the surrounding neighborhood.

It would be an improvement in appearance to the auto repair shop, they said. With such a small parcel, potential for other reinvestment on the site was slim, they said. There also would not be an odor emanating onto neighboring properties from food being cooked, they said.

In 1997, McDonald’s withdrew a proposal to build a restaurant at the former site of Puff’s Ice Cream, now the location of a Dunkin’ Donuts shop, after failing to obtain an easement from a neighboring business.

The company also met with opposition from community members who wanted to save the ice cream shop and many who argued that the fast-food chain would bring too much traffic to the neighborhood.

Zoning paperwork for the project can be seen at http://wdt.me/Chestnut-Street.

By Craig Fox, Times Staff Writer