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Early opposition mounts against McDonald’s project in Schenectady

Early opposition mounts against McDonald’s project in Schenectady

Project sparks controversy on Upper Union Street
Early opposition mounts against McDonald’s project in Schenectady
The Upper Union Street McDonald's is pictured.
Photographer: Marc Schultz

SCHENECTADY — Upper Union Street residents are quickly mobilizing against a possible McDonald’s expansion project in their neighborhood.

About 30 people, including the leaders of three neighborhood associations, attended a meeting at an Ellis Hospital conference room on Tuesday evening to discuss the project, which franchise owners have said will modernize the dated location.

Reached by phone on Tuesday, franchise owner John Reeher said the project was in the early planning stages.

“I can confirm a plan to rebuild that location and make it a modern building instead of the antiquated building that is there,” said Reeher, who declined to discuss additional details.

The upgrade would call for the demolition of the building next door at 1671 Union St., which is owned by John and Kathie Reeher and currently houses Mr. Wasabi and Simon’s Mens Wear, John Reeher told The Times Union earlier this month. 

The existing McDonald's building would be torn down and rebuilt in the adjacent parcel while incorporating a second drive-thru and expanded parking, he told the newspaper.

Schenectady City Planner Christine Primiano on Tuesday said her office has not received an application for the project to be included on July’s agenda. The deadline for materials is Wednesday.  

“We don’t have any time frame," Reeher said.

NUMEROUS CONCERNS

Despite the lack of a formal proposal containing detailed plans, a nucleus of early opposition emerged on Tuesday as attendees shared concerns over what an expanded footprint may mean for the neighborhood, which has described itself as a “charming main street neighborhood with a unique, high quality mix of one of a kind shops and services along with fine and casual dining.”  

Attendees flagged the potential for increased noise, litter and negative environmental impacts stemming from an expansion, as well as questioning the impact on the aesthetic and residential character of the neighborhood.

“Is this what we want our neighborhood to be? asked Kat Wolfram, a self-described foodie who expressed concern over impacts on independent restaurants in the neighborhood. 

Mary Widdis said parking and congestion are already a problem on Keyes Avenue. 

Others were more skeptical. 

David Orr asked the group to articulate their concerns and indicated past worries about increased traffic at the expanded Dunkin’ Donuts largely failed to materialize.

GETTING ORGANIZED

Attendees left the two-hour session with the early outlines of working groups designed to give structure to their opposition, governing such tasks as drafting email templates, lobbying city lawmakers, streamlining communication efforts and developing an overall strategy to combat the project. 

Alicia S. Deering, a brand director, advised attendees to articulate what the group stood for, not necessarily what they were against, and to lead with a positive message

“It’s really about preserving the aesthetics of our neighborhood,” Deering said. 

The Reehers own several franchises in the region, including a location in Glenville that was recently remodeled to include touch-screen kiosks and facilitate Uber Eats.

Attendees hoped the Reehers would address the group to assuage concerns and kill any possible misconceptions. 

“There’s a lot of concern and a lot of interest in this proposal,” said Tom Carey, president of Schenectady United Neighborhoods (SUN), who led the discussion.

WILL MONITOR CLOSELY

Posters appeared recently on utility poles throughout the neighborhood urging residents to attend the meeting.

“McDonald’s is proposing to demolish Simon’s on Union St. to build another parking lot,” read the poster. “Is this the future you want for your neighborhood?” 

12309 Neighborhood Association President Rima Cerrone said it was unclear who put up the signs.

Despite the tenor of the conversation, neighborhood groups have not yet staked out a formal position. 

But Laurie Bacheldor, former SUN president, said presidents of associations citywide are aware of the project and expressed concerns that an expansion would set precedents in their neighborhoods, whether the Stockade or Mont Pleasant. 

“The coalition-building will not be a problem,” she said. “We are a very organized community when we need to be.”

Carey noted each step of the process would trigger public meetings and opportunities for public comment.

“We will monitor this closely,” he said.

In the meantime, the current tenants of the adjacent building continue to be open for business.

Simon’s owner Michael Bernstein said his lease expires in 2020 as part of a long-standing agreement with Reeher.

Bernstein doesn’t envision any changes until “sometime in 2020.”

He said he remains undecided if he will open elsewhere.

“I’m at retirement age,” Bernstein said. “However, I’m open to moving if I find a place or a different job.” 

Mr. Wasabi will relocate to another building in the same neighborhood, 1729 Union St., the site of the former Phillips Hardware, said owner Jackie Cheng on Tuesday. 

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