Smart Growth for Vernon, CT
Vernon panel shoots down plan for futuristic McDonald's

By Kym Soper
Journal Inquirer
August 7, 2007

VERNON - The Design Review Commission has shot down the contemporary design favored by McDonald's restaurant in its bid to tear down the existing building on Route 83 and construct a decidedly more modern structure.

The commission last month voted unanimously to deny the proposal for the 4,109-square-foot building, which would include two drive-through windows.

Town staff and commission members had requested the applicant submit alternative designs, saying they would prefer a more subdued, New England-esque look.

But only the contemporary design was presented at the July 9 meeting, as McDonald's corporate headquarters is insisting that all new construction follow this model.

Walsh Enterprises owns the Talcotville Road building, which is bordered by Friendly's Restaurant to the north, a Dunkin' Donuts drive-through to the south, the Interstate 84 exit ramp to the east, and a wooded area to the west that slopes down to the banks of the Hockanum River.

Plans had called for razing the existing 40-year-old structure and replacing it with a one-story geometric-shaped building. Plans called for painting the square and rectangle walls snow white and terracotta, while bright yellow striped awnings would shade the windows. A bright yellow bow element - which looks like a small section of the now famous arch - would prominently cap the building in at least three areas.

Altogether, Walsh Enterprises owns and operates eight local McDonald's restaurants, including one under construction in Ellington on Route 83 in the Big Y plaza.

Residents in that town also balked at the new-age architecture, dubbed "Forever Young," saying it didn't fit with the town's rural character. After being denied in that town, McDonald's came back with alternative plans similar to the existing fast-food restaurant in Tolland that has a red brick foundation, beige siding, copper-topped cupola, multi-paned windows, and white columns.

Commission members say that is the type of design they were hoping for.

But Michael Walsh, a principal of Walsh Enterprises, says that colonial-type model is no longer available.

"We're right in the middle of it," said Walsh, who understands that corporate headquarters wants a standardized design and hopes they can work something out with the town.

A couple of years ago, franchise owners had a choice between two or three designs, but now its being limited to one, he said, adding that at the time, the option still existed for the Ellington building.

The Vernon McDonald's on Talcotville Road with its famous golden arches was the last red-and-white-tiled design constructed in the country, Walsh said. Because of its age and for safety reasons, it needs to be replaced, he said.

"What we're hoping for is that between McDonald's Corporation and the town Planning and Zoning, they can come up with a compromise, whether it's the building or the colors," Walsh said, adding "the drive-through would be much more efficient and safe" with the new design.

"The worst-case scenario is if McDonald's and the town get into a standoff - we just want to do what's right for the town and for us," he added.

The application has been continued to Sept. 6. Both Design Review and Planning and Zoning commissions can insist on changes, but there will be no public hearing as the application is a site modification of an already approved plan of development.

©Journal Inquirer 2007