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Commission Not Lovin' New McDonald's

The proposal is the first to come after the city passed new development standards in downtown. The Planning Commission fears it's too contemporary.

A complete redo of  the is the first downtown development proposed since the city passed new building guidelines for the area.

And city officials aren’t quite loving it yet.

“Contemporary, really? I don’t see you’re going to get too far with that one,” said Commission Chairman Robert Williams, echoing other commissioners' concerns.

McDonald’s Corp. is proposing to tear down the existing, about 40-year-old fast-food joint and replace it with a bigger building that moves the play area inside and has a more efficient drive-thru pass.

David Senninger, the architect hired by the hamburger giant, said McDonald’s no longer has a set look for the exterior of its restaurants.

“This is not a branded building,” he explained. Where once, if you’d seen one McDonald’s, you’d seen them all, the company now uses a variety of “rich materials,” such as the Texas cream stone façade proposed for San Juan.

Commissioner Roy Nunn, an architect himself, wasn’t ready to dismiss the idea of a contemporary building on the edge of downtown.

“We have a mission style, Spanish eclectic, Santa Barbara-style. We have brick buildings, Victorian style. We have that nice mix,” Nunn said. He could envision melding contemporary as well, as long as the McDonald’s folks were willing to “put on your creative caps.”

Adding that already, the proposal is better than the current building, “Show us that you can do something contemporary in a form that fits in San Juan Capistrano,” Nunn encouraged.

Beyond pure aesthetics, the Planning Commission found that the McDonald’s proposal wasn’t easily fitting in to the recent standards adopted when the .

For example, one of the plan’s intentions is to push buildings closer to the road and have the parking behind them, said city Associate Planner Nick Taylor.

But Brian Hardy, area construction manager for McDonald’s, said the city’s new standards now require more parking – even though at least 65 percent of the business is from the drive-through – and they’re having a tough time finding room.

In addition, corporate officials really want traffic to circulate in a one-way direction and have a cut-back road in front of the building, so just in case someone doesn’t find parking, they can circle back without having to exit onto Del Obispo Street, as is the case now.

Most commissioners liked that idea because it keeps traffic down on a part of the street that’s known as fast-food alley. But the longer-term plan for Del Obispo is to install a tree-lined median, which would make access to McDonald’s difficult 15 or 20 years down the road.

“You’d be at the tail end of a big, interior cul-de-sac,” said Commissioner Tim Neely.

Hardy said the company is ready to work with the city. Corporate officials do not want to pull out of San Juan Capistrano, and they most definitely want to replace their “dilapidated” restaurant.

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