Controversial Schenectady McDonald’s expansion tabled following community outcry

A rendering of the proposed McDonald's restaurant renovation at Union and Dean streets.
A rendering of the proposed McDonald's restaurant renovation at Union and Dean streets.

SCHENECTADY — Plans to renovate the McDonald’s restaurant at the corner of upper Union and Dean streets have been tabled following community pushback.  

“I don’t think we need to take this any further at the moment,” said Sandra Martell, a portfolio manager for McDonald’s. “It sounds like it will be very challenging to develop the site.”

The proposal aims to demolish two existing structures and replace them with a 4,350-square-foot restaurant.

Over a dozen residents launched a salvo of criticism against the project when it went before the city Planning Commission on Wednesday. The meeting was held remotely.

Residents said the proposal didn’t align with the neighborhood character, citing disruption of the streetscape with the demolition of the building housing the Simon’s Menswear and Mr. Wasabi on Union Street. Simon’s has gone out of business and Mr. Wasabi’s is moving.

Amended plans submitted by Bohler Engineering also called for the demolition of a neighboring home on Dean Street to accommodate the restaurant’s expanded footprint, which would include a second drive-thru. 

“Once gone, neighborhood buildings can’t be repurposed and enjoy a second or third life,” wrote Jesse McCaughey in a letter. “They just become gaps in the vitality of the city.”

Blueprints reveal the proposed new building, boxy and earth-toned, would adhere to the understated and muted look of the fast food chain’s latest generation of building architecture. 

Russell Swanker described the design as “modern generic” better suited for the suburban confines of Wolf Road in Colonie or Route 50 in Wilton, Saratoga County. 

“And that’s not really what Schenectady looks like or aspires to be,” Swanker said.

Opposition quickly mobilized around the project last June, with neighborhood residents questioning what an expanded footprint might mean for the upper Union Street neighborhood, which strives for a pedestrian-friendly blend of businesses and restaurants. 

Project architects met with residents several times last fall and winter and tweaked the proposal to address noise, traffic and pedestrian safety concerns.

And they also removed a planned second driveway onto Union Street from the blueprints following backlash.

But the fresh round of criticisms caught them off-guard.

Project engineer Steve Wilson contended the new design would actually reduce the number of parking spaces and bring the storefront two feet closer to the street than its current location. 

And the drive-thru would be outfitted with automatic voice control that would reduce levels at night.

Martell asked for more guidance on how to conform with Upper Union Street Design Guidelines designed to encourage what Schenectady Heritage Foundation Chairwoman Gloria Kishton said encourage a “pedestrian-friendly, interesting and comfortable sense of place.”

“We do want to be a friendly neighbor,” Martell said. 

There is no timeline for when Bohler Engineering must resubmit an application.

“I think at this point we need to take back all comments and feedback and give further conditions,” Martell said. “And we’ll look at the overall picture to see if everything works. If if can’t, we’ll have to figure out where to go at that point.

12309 Neighborhood Association Vice President Tom Carey said residents aren’t opposed to McDonald’s, but rather the project aesthetics. 

“It’s strictly a design issue and the impact that this current proposal will have on our neighborhood,” Carey said. 

Franchise owners John and Kathie Reeher, who completed similar upgrades at their Glenville location last year, listened in on the call but did not address the comments.

Categories: News, Schenectady County


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