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McDonald’s appeals city’s denial of drive-thru

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McDonald’s USA on Monday appealed Sacramento Planning Commission’s decision to deny a drive-through restaurant on the corner of Stockton Boulevard and 2nd Avenue in the city’s Oak Park neighborhood.

The action sends the issue to City Council for a final vote and extends a nearly two-year debate about the project and its placement in an urban corridor adjacent to medical offices, hospitals and an obesity clinic on Stockton Boulevard and single-family homes on 2nd Avenue.

Senior Planner Lindsey Alagozian said city staff is reviewing the appeal, which presents McDonald’s arguments against the city’s decision. McDonald’s representatives did not respond to questions about the appeal.

The Planning Commission April 12 voted six-to-one to deny the special permit required to move forward with the drive-through. Area Construction Manager Margaret Trujillo said 60 percent of McDonald’s business is drive-through and that the restaurant could not operate without it.

In rejecting McDonald’s bid, the commission cited the city’s General Plan, which calls for urban corridors to have multistory and more-intense uses at major intersections with moderate lot coverage and lower-intensity uses adjacent to neighborhoods. The McDonald’s design uses about 10 percent of the lot with the drive-through being the “most prominent” feature.

City planning staff also clarified that “the location of the drive-through lane would directly impede pedestrian movement to and from the adjacent city sidewalks along Stockton Boulevard and 2nd Avenue.”

Members of Healthy Development for Oak Park submitted signatures of more than 1,700 residents opposing the project. Opponents address land use, bike and pedestrian safety, traffic, air quality, impact on nearby homes and perpetuation of an unhealthy and sedentary lifestyle.

“Healthy Development for Oak Park is grateful to the Sacramento planning staff for doing such a thorough evaluation of this project and to the Planning Commission for respecting the concerns of the community,” said Charlene Hauser, a public health doctor who lives near the disputed site and works at UC Davis Medical Center. “To waste a lot with such great land-use potential on a drive-through restaurant would only benefit the bottom line of the landowner and franchisee, at the expense of the Oak Park community and UC-Davis patients.”

Proponents say the drive-through will bring a stable, locally owned franchise to a vacant corner and add between 55-75 jobs to the local economy as well as shade trees, lighting and an outdoor dining area.

“McDonald’s is proud of our proposed, neighborhood-friendly design and is confident the project is both aesthetically pleasing and fully consistent with the City of Sacramento’s General Plan and applicable City Code provisions,” wrote Trujillo in a letter to the Planning Commission.

Alagozian said both the Planning Commission and City Council can vote only on the issue of the special permit, but acknowledged that the public brings up a number of “side issues.”

During the recent Planning Commission hearing, local physicians urged the commission to consider the impact a drive-through fast-food business can have on lifestyle, including food choices, walkability of city streets and air quality.

“We want the healthy choice to be the easy choice, and a drive through business makes that choice very difficult,” said Hauser. “Although health is not traditionally discussed in technical planning, it is becoming more widely recognized as an important effect of city design as health impact assessments and health in all policies become more widespread.”

Commissioner Michelle Smira cast the sole vote in support of the drive-through and said healthy choices are about education and warned against “attacks directed against McDonald’s.” She added that it’s not the commission’s job to dictate people’s choices.

The decision is now up to City Council, which can over-rule the Planning Commission.

“City Council will hear from staff, the applicant (McDonald’s) and the public,” said Alagozian. “The council will review the issue ‘de novo’ and vote on this item. Their decision will be final.”

The City Council hearing is expected to be in four to six weeks according to Alagozian.

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