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21/01/02 . by Christopher Hume . The Toronto Star . Ontario, CANADA
Slowing Down a Fast-food Chain
The residents of Humewood don't mind McDonald's clogging their arteries, but they draw the line at clogging their streets.
That line is being drawn right now at St. Clair Ave. W. and Christie St., where McDonald's plans to rebuild an existing outlet to accommodate a drive-through.
Not surprisingly, the neighbourhood is fighting tooth and nail to stop the fast-food chain from going ahead with its scheme. Locals fear it will endanger their children, congest their roads and pollute their air.
"It's like the Spadina Expressway all over again," laments Sarah Adler, a long-time resident and a member of the recently formed Humewood Neighbourhood Committee. "We've worked all our lives to have a nice community. Now it's in trouble. Stores are closing and there's a long fight ahead to revitalize the area. We don't want the drive-through. We don't want to be suburbanized."
The McDonald's in question, on the north side of St. Clair at Christie, has been there since the 1970s. Except for the neighbours on Humewood Dr., who live with delivery trucks day and night, residents have had no problem with the franchise.
That all changed last year when McDonald's announced it would tear down the single-storey outlet and replace it with a two-floor building with a drive-through to the side and rear.
Urban drive-throughs are the latest trend in the fast-food industry. Though they evolved in the suburbs where car culture is king, they are now popping up in the city. McDonald's already operates drive-throughs on Queen St. E., at Bathurst St. and Dundas St. W., and at the corner of Pape Ave. and Cosburn Ave.
"We've been working for just over a year with city staff," counters McDonald's manager of development and planning Victor Labreche. "And we've spent time in the community. But it's an as-of-right development and we're going ahead with it."
"We welcome McDonald's, but not the drive-through," insists local councillor Joe Mihevc (Ward 21, St. Paul's). "This is an inappropriate location for a drive-though. The site is too small and this is a pedestrian-friendly neighbourhood. Cars will be lined up on the street. ... The whole issue of drive-throughs has to be examined by the city. None of our bylaws or site-plan approval processes has any requirements related to drive-throughs. The only recourse we have is public appeal."
Mihevc is absolutely right. The bottom line is that McDonald's can pretty well do what it wants regardless of the residents.
But McDonald's would be well advised to rethink its ill-conceived plans. As Adler says, the neighbourhood has come together as never before - expressly to stop the chain.
"We started a new community group because of McDonald's," she says. "Now we hope to do other things as well. We've supported McDonald's for 20 years - this is how they pay us back."
The new committee has had meetings, demonstrations and a petition. "Even people coming out of McDonald's sign it," Adler says. "Our fear is that we're the guinea pig, the first of many neighbourhood drive-throughs in Toronto. McDonald's says it wants to work with the community, but they won't even talk to us."
"We've gone out of our way to listen," Labreche responds. "I think we've done a better job as a result. The drive-through will be screened from the street. The traffic on St. Clair is fairly high, it's true. We will have to abide with municipal bylaws. Left turns from the restaurant will be restricted during rush hour."
Therein lies the problem. Drive-throughs are bad enough in the suburbs, where they proliferate, but in an urban environment they are all wrong. That McDonald's can build one, and in perfect compliance with existing zoning regulations, is an indication of how municipal government has completely failed the city.
But in this neighbourhood, people don't give up easily. The Humewood group is organizing a demonstration for next Saturday, in front of the McDonald's, 710 St. Clair Ave. W., starting at 11 a.m.
"We had 300 people for the last rally in November," says Adler. "We're
expecting at least 500 next Saturday."