Maybe, in the end, they can all sit down amicably over a Happy Meal.
But the mood was decidedly unhappy when the Arlington County Board and representatives of McDonald’s recently tangled over redevelopment of the restaurant chain’s 60-year-old outlet in the 4800 block of Lee Highway.
After some contentious back and forth during an April 25 public hearing, both sides agreed to take a cooling-off period and come back in July to try again.
In the interim, “we would expect this design to be pretty significantly reworked,” County Board member Katie Cristol said.
The Chicago-based restaurant chain earlier this year proposed a number of major changes to the parcel, creating a two-story building with a smaller footprint (interior seating capacity, currently 117, would rise slightly to 120). But the biggest sticking point was a proposal to create a second drive-through window coupled with a circulator loop for vehicles, which company officials say will improve traffic management on the site but county staff counter will not.
“It could create more congestion than is necessary,” said Kevin Lam, a county-government planner, noting the “possibility for backup and congestion.”
(Lam acknowledged, however, the as currently configured, the restaurant site already has its problems, with traffic occasionally backing onto Lee Highway at peak times.)
County Board members, meeting with the applicant in a “virtual” setting, seemed peeved that McDonald’s wouldn’t, at first, budge from the circulator proposal despite county pushback.
Even the often unflappable county manager, Mark Schwartz, intimated that the back and forth leading up to the meeting had been wearying.
“I can only take one more of these conversations,” Schwartz said in supporting a proposal to push the next public hearing back on the matter back several months to try and reach a solution.
Schwartz suggested that the matter be reconsidered in June, but board members opted for July to encourage “really useful public comment,” board member Christian Dorsey said.
County officials held the upper hand in the situation; had they opted to reject the proposal, McDonald’s likely would have been forced to wait a year before bringing a new one for consideration.
McDonald’s ultimately acknowledged it would be willing to drop plans for the circulator loop in order to win approval, and earlier had agreed to a number of other improvements, including meeting current stormwater-management rules, upgrading sidewalks, reducing the size of entrance curb cuts to reduce hazards for pedestrians, aligning the building with Lee Highway and replacing the outdated exterior with a more contemporary wood-and-metal design.
The restaurant, which dates to the early 1960s, has been “long overdue for a refresh,” company officials acknowledged.
McDonald’s also plans to restore a mural at the adjacent Langston-Brown Community Center, and provide a play space for children inside the revamped restaurant.
As sometimes is the case, several County Board members opted to toss in their urban-design proposals. Dorsey asked if the chain could “look at a different view of this site, based on where you’re heading in the future as opposed to how you operated in the past,” but his request seemed to fall through the cracks as the hearing rolled on.