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Watertown City Council rejects zoning change for McDonald’s on Washington Street

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WATERTOWN — Now that the City Council has rejected a zoning change for a proposed McDonald’s, Mary F. Espinoza and her neighbors are anxious to know if the developers will try to find another way to build the fast-food restaurant on Washington Street.

The Chestnut Street resident said she even plans to attend the city Planning Board meeting today just to make sure representatives of Sphere Development, Manlius, do not show up with new plans to get the project back on track.

On Monday night, council members unanimously rejected a zoning change for the project. The developers have said they are looking at alternative plans for the project but have declined to comment further.

Mrs. Espinoza and about 60 other residents came to Monday’s meeting to express concerns about traffic, noise and odors. With a dozen speaking at the meeting, some also expressed concerns about whether it was the right type of food that should be offered at that location, given that Watertown High School and Case Middle School are right across the street.

An art teacher at the high school, Kimberly Laforty, who lives down the street at 1115 Washington St., told council members she would be concerned that students would skip lunch and go to McDonald’s for a quarter-pounder and french fries after school.

She’s also worried about noise and traffic at the already busy intersection of Washington and Chestnut streets.

“I do not want the Golden Arches as my nightlight,” she said.

Before the vote, Bruce R. Irwin, a former state Department of Transportation employee, said a 2011 traffic study on Washington Street found that 14,500 vehicles travel through that section daily. He expects traffic would increase drastically if the fast-food restaurant were built there.

On May 23, he conducted his own traffic study at the State Street McDonald’s, finding that 15 percent of vehicles turned into the restaurant between 11 a.m. and noon. DOT determined in 2011 that 11,300 vehicles travel through State Street on a daily basis, he said.

Plans called for a house at 111 Chestnut St., owned by Susan Burker, to be demolished to make way for the restaurant. The project would need a zoning change for the Chestnut Street residence, from Residence A to Neighborhood Business.

The developers proposed a 3,900-square-foot restaurant with a single drive-up window, 22 parking spots, a one-way entrance and exit onto Washington Street and an entrance-exit on Chestnut Street.

Michael Corbett, who lives next door to the site, said the restaurant would ruin the quaintness of the neighborhood where he has lived for years. He’d see the drive-through window from his dining room, he said.

“Chestnut Street would become an unattractive neighborhood to live in because of one house, that one house,” he said, referring to Ms. Burker’s property.

Jon Hall, who lives at 1381 Washington St., agreed.

“I don’t see anything good that would come from a McDonald’s,” he said.

Three weeks ago, the city Planning Board rejected the zoning change after about 30 residents showed up at the meeting. More than 100 residents have signed a petition objecting to the zoning change. Members of the nearby Stone Presbyterian Church also are against it.

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