Divided panel backs zoning code change to allow limited number of drive-through restaurants in freeway district
A proposal to build a McDonald’s restaurant with drive-through lanes in the Grafton Commons cleared a major hurdle Tuesday when the village’s Plan Commission approved a conditional-use permit and site plan for the project.
The commission also recommended a zoning-code change that would allow the restaurant as an exception to a long-standing ordinance prohibiting drive-through restaurants in the eastside C-4 freeway interchange business district.
Kilian Management Services, which operates Grafton’s only other McDonald’s on Falls Road, wants to construct a 4,459-square-foot restaurant on the last vacant lot in Grafton Commons: a 1.85-acre parcel north of Highway 60 just east of the Kohler Credit Union.
Besides a drive-through with dual ordering stations, the restaurant would seat 68 customers and have an outdoor patio and parking on the west, south and east sides of the property. Because there would be no vehicular access to the restaurant from Highway 60, motorists would be required to turn off Port Washington Road to reach the property.
By a 4-2 vote, the commission rec-ommended changing the zoning code to add “eating places with drive-through facilities” as a conditional use in the district.
Commission members Randy Silasiri and Mark Paschke voted against the change after voicing concerns about its potential impact.
“There could be another drive-through coming along soon,” Silasiri said. “Once you open that floodgate, we’re going to see those types of restaurants.
“I’m not saying McDonald’s is good or bad, but the zoning will allow that type of business to come in.”
Paschke said he was concerned about how the proposed change would impact existing businesses if they want to add drive-throughs or are sold to someone who did.
The zoning code currently prohibits such businesses with two exceptions: a Dairy Queen restaurant allowed as a grandfathered use and a Starbucks Coffee, whose drive-through business is primarily beverage sales rather than food.
In originally adopting the code, village officials cited a desire to attract sit-down restaurants rather than fast-food establishments in the freeway corridor.
Village Planning Director Jessica Wolff said the proposed change has several provisions designed to limit the number of drive-through restaurants in the district.
These include requiring new restaurants with drive-through facilities to be part of a planned unit development with at least 150,000 square feet of retail, office or hospitality uses and to be at least 1,500 feet away from another drive-through restaurant.
During a public hearing on a proposed conditional-use permit for the McDonald’s, resident Bob Meier urged the commission to reject the project.
“I think it’s a giant step backwards from what we set out to do 15 years ago,” Meier said. “That was to have no drive-throughs in C-4.”
But Village President Jim Brunnquell said he supports the change because the village has been unable to attract a sit-down restaurant to the proposed McDonald’s site, and the market has changed.
“We created a C-4 with the intent of creating a regional retail experience. It’s been successful for about 10 years, but plans have to adjust and react to the times,” Brunnquell said.
“There’s a tipping point where the amount of retail out there depends on this type of use. It’s a valid use.”
In response to concerns that Grafton might allow more drive-throughs, Village Administrator Darrell Hofland said the 1,500-foot buffer zone would leave only two areas in the corridor open to such businesses: a parcel at the south end of the district on which Meijer is building a 200,000-square-foot store and property north of the Grafton Commons anchored by Costco.
“Right now, those are the only feasible locations,” Hofland said.
The commission’s recommendation on the zoning change is expected to be considered by the Village Board on April 6.
The commission unanimously approved a conditional-use permit for the new McDonald’s and approved the site plan by a 5-1 vote. Alan Kletti cast the nay vote after voicing concern about traffic flow to and from the restaurant.
“I still have a problem knowing this is a high-usage, high-volume pattern. I don’t think it’s a good fit,” Kletti said.
Pending Village Board approval of the zoning change, Kilian Management Services plans to begin construction in June. The building would be custom-designed to commemorate McDonald's 60-year anniversary.
Company officials said there are no plans to close the Falls Road restaurant. They said their commitment to continue operating both Grafton businesses is underscored by their request to add a second drive-through lane to the Falls Road location.
The commission approved that request Tuesday.