New Paltz Town Planning Board members learned about several sign variances being sought for McDonald’s at their January 14 meeting. Additional and larger signs are being sought as part of a planned remodel of the Main Street fast-food restaurant, including two that would be ten feet or more in length if approved.
Len Loza, chair of the town’s Zoning Board of Appeals (ZBA), briefed Planning Board members last week to get their input. When the McDonald’s site plan was first reviewed, Loza explained, the only variance being considered was to allow more cars in the lot to comply with parking regulations intended to be a limiting factor on traffic. The ZBA chair came to request that they weigh in on seven more variances, all relating to signage.
Some of the requests — the menu and the “pre-browse” sign — would be replacing existing signs because during the site-plan review process, everything must be brought into compliance with current law. However, the McDonald’s plan includes an illuminated logo on the east wall, an additional set of golden arches alongside the monument sign out front and two larger signs on the west side: a two-by-18-foot “McDonald’s” and a two-by-ten-foot “play space” sign across that front portion of the building.
Planning Board members have told the applicant’s representative that the orange and yellow striping on the play space area is very distracting and needs to go; they also suggested tinting the windows to further reduce the likelihood drivers will be looking at the store rather than the road. Planning Board chair Adele Ruger opined that these sign requests were intended to find another way to draw the eye.
The menu and pre-browse sign as proposed would both be slightly bigger than what’s there (although with framing may actually appear smaller in the end), but board members initially did not question the rationale. Across the street, there’s similar signage in front of Burger King, and having them in the rear was seen as preferable to those around the table. Taken in context with the entire variance application, Matt DiDonna asked if two menu signs are even necessary; the sense of his colleagues was that it’s standard practice in the industry. Adding a sign that can be used to help with decision-making while one waits in the car presumably reduces the time to order. According to one Wall Street Journal article, drive-through wait times at McDonald’s passed three minutes in 2014, the highest in 15 years. Federal Highway Administration guidance is to avoid drive-through lanes: “It will probably be quicker and you’ll reduce CO2 emissions,” according to a 2009 document titled “10 Simple Steps to Reducing Climate Change.”
Standard practice is evocative of the argument laid out in the ZBA application. Relief from the town’s sign law “will enhance the customer experience and simplify the ordering process as well as remaining consistent with other area McDonald’s restaurants.”
Ruger summarized the attitude about the other additional signs by calling them a “distraction.” She singled out the play space sign in particular as being “overdone” and “enormous,” observing that “it looks like it’s the name of the business.” In Ruger’s opinion, company executives should be able to find other ways to make it clear there’s a play space available inside. “The menu is one thing, but they don’t need a sign for every part of the business.”
Stana Weisburd agreed with Ruger, calling it “visually distracting” and adding that “none of this makes sense.”
The comments made by Planning Board members to their fellows on the ZBA must pertain to planning issues, advised Rick Golden, board attorney. Safety is a legitimate planning concern, and their comments will focus on the safety impacts of some of the signs. The menus and directional signs raised no such flags, and board members were split on whether the additional logo in front — measuring four feet by three-and-a-half — needed their input. ++