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Village Vision News

McDonald’s to keep sign

Thursday, October 27, 2011

Village Board disregards Plan Commission recommendation in allowing McDonald’s to keep an 80-foot pole sign.

McDonald’s tall golden arch in Forsyth will remain a beacon for interstate motorists following a Board decision Oct. 17.

Four trustees voted unanimously to retain the use of the existing 80-foot pole sign which has been at the corner of Rt. 51 and Lucile Avenue since 1980 when the fast food chain arrived in the Village. Also approved in the same motion were special use permits for additional McDonald’s signage. Trustees Steve Hubbard and Marilyn Johnson were absent that evening during the lengthy discourse.

The 80-foot pole sign became the focal point for discussion once local owner/operator Gary Birschbach and company rebuild manager Rich Neubauer met with Plan Commission members Sept. 29 to discuss plans to raze the existing building and rebuild it at a cost between $2.5-$3 million. Birschbach said he needed Village approval to retain use of the existing sign which he said impacted sales by attracting 70 percent of customers who are “impulse driven.” He said signage along the interstate is no substitute to let travelers know what only a pole sign tells them – the direction and the distance to a McDonald’s. Signage and visibility of the building are components in the restaurant’s partnership with the Village, according to Birschbach, who said his store generates $325,000 in annual sales tax revenue for the Village and pays $20,000 in property taxes each year.

In their review, Plan Commission members were intent on adhering to the 2002 Long Range Comprehensive Plan which encourages the elimination of pole signs and a further ordinance that prohibits pole signs unless an applicant has been approved for a special use permit as outlined in the zoning ordinance. Several members, including Dennis Downey and Larry Luckenbill, traveled I-72 in both directions and reported that they saw no benefit of having a pole sign. The commission’s chair Steve Langhoff said sign variances were the “bane” of commission members and further stated that McDonald’s had not demonstrated its pole sign to be harmonious with and in accordance with the general objectives of both the Comprehensive Land Use Plan and the Zoning Ordinance. Member Colleen Brinkoetter concurred and said the company had not met the Village’s standards for granting the request.

Trustees tackled the dilemma of considering options that were not in full agreement with the Plan Commission before the motion to deny its recommendation. The initial mention of a compromise came from trustee Bob Rasho who kicked off the topic by suggesting that the company proceed with its plans while giving the Village time to make its ordinances consistent with a revamped long-range plan which staff soon will begin to formulate with the help of a professional consultant.

“No one will go through a project of this magnitude without guarantees,” Neubauer answered, despite Rasho’s claim that the process would possibly work to McDonald’s advantage. Trustee Larry Reed said he was disappointed that Birschbach and Neubauer had not come back to the Board with a proposed compromise based on the Plan Commission review. He said he had heard no new information other than a repeat of the session with the commission, but Neubauer said that was “…because we believe in our plan.”

Once Mayor Hap Gilbert opened the discussion to the audience, resident Mike Unruh said trustees would be “short sighted” if they employed “a silly, antiquated ordinance” to deny McDonald’s its pole sign. Local developer Steve Horve and business owner Dale Colee voiced support in allowing McDonald’s to keep its sign. Horve said he could understand the position of disappointed business owner Tim Nord who was required to take down his non-conforming Power Wash Service sign once he sold the land where it was located.

“But it’s not a fair comparison … I haven’t jumped off the interstate to get my car washed, but I have to go to McDonald’s,” he said. The mayor, likewise, spoke out in favor to retain the sign noting that motorists coming off the interstate have an overall impact on the Forsyth economy because they have the opportunity to stop and shop at other businesses such as Hickory Point Mall, not just McDonald’s.

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