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Schenectady board to weigh controversial Union Street McDonald's renovation project

Schenectady board to weigh controversial Union Street McDonald's renovation project

Neighborhood associations continue to harbor concerns
Schenectady board to weigh controversial Union Street McDonald's renovation project
A rendering of the proposed McDonald's restaurant renovation at Union and Dean streets.
Photographer: Image provided

SCHENECTADY — A proposal by a local McDonald’s franchise owner to demolish and build a larger Union Street restaurant with an expanded drive-thru will be presented to city planners on Wednesday. 

The proposed location would be located on the site of the existing retail building containing Mr. Wasabi and Simon’s Mens Wear, which will be torn down. 

The upgrade would increase the number of parking spots to 38 from 34, and boost the eatery's footprint from 3,309-square-feet to 4,350. 

Developers briefed neighborhood residents last month on their plans, which had been slightly modified to address their noise and traffic concerns and would bring the new building closer to Union Street. 

While meeting attendees initially appeared to be mollified, neighborhood leaders later acknowledged they were too sedate in their criticism and remain opposed to the proposal in its current form.

Tom Carey, president of Schenectady United Neighborhoods (SUN), said the project would “seriously compromise the well-being of our Upper Union St. business district.”

“Apparently, we were much too polite,” Carey said at a late-November meeting to discuss strategy. “That seems to be the sense of the neighborhood — they’re not happy.” 

Residents believe the proposed design doesn’t fit the neighborhood's character and that adding a second entrance on Union Street will remove valuable on-street public parking spaces and present dangers for pedestrians. 

As such, they want the second entrance removed, and are also concerned that the new restaurant, which would replace the classic hut-style design with a more contemporary model, will exacerbate traffic problems on an already congested street.

Carey also wants developers to conduct traffic counts that would illuminate the full impact to the neighborhood. 

Project engineer Steven Wilson did not respond for comment on Monday. But developers previously said a second drive-thru lane, which will require a special use permit, is expected to reduce idling times and will cut down on queuing and stacking. 

Wilson will ask the city Planning Commission for site plan approval on Wednesday. 

Developers have requested several variances, including those related to setbacks from residential property, the number of parking spaces and size of directional signs.

Neighborhood associations — including 12309 and SUN — will step up their outreach ahead of the meeting, Carey said, in the hopes to drive a large turnout.

Former city Planning Commission Chairwoman Sharran Coppola offered residents tips for when they appeared before planning officials. 

“It’s also extremely important to be there that evening and bombard them with all of your objections,” Coppola said. “It’s got to be a constant barrage.” 

Commissioners, she noted, are not voting on if they like the project or not, but rather it meets the city's planning criteria. 

Residents acknowledged organizing and educating their neighbors has presented a challenge, particularly Dean Street residents whom opponents believe will be most impacted by noise and changes in traffic patterns. 

“We haven’t heard from residents on Dean Street,” said Laurie Bacheldor. “They’re renters.”

The upgrade comes when McDonald's is in the midst of an aggressive nationwide campaign to remodel all 14,000 of its U.S. locations by 2022 under a concept the chain has dubbed "Experience of the Future."

Tech upgrades at the Union Street location will include touch-screen kiosks and use of Uber Eats delivery, both of which are designed to accommodate growing self-service and delivery trends.

Franchise owners John and Kathie Reeher recently completed similar upgrades at their Glenville location.

If approved by the city Planning Commission, Wilson previously estimated construction will take three months.

The Reehers currently own the retail building that will be torn down. 

Both Simon’s Mens Wear and Mr. Wasabi remain open. Simon’s owner Michael Bernstein previously said his lease expires in 2020 as part of a long-standing agreement with John Reeher.

Mr. Wasabi will relocate to the site of the former Phillips Hardware located nearby.

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