Our Drive-Thru Fight -
Advice from the US MidWest
10 April 2002
A year and a half ago the horribly run, garbage strewn-throughout-the-neighborhood McDonald's Restaurant came to the city just before the 4th of July. We received notice that they wanted to install a drive thru. It was hard to rally people over the holiday and on vacations.
In order for them to do this they would rip down the current building, move it over to within 20 feet of a two storey. They will reduce the seating capacity by 40% and increase profits by 10%. (Note: city just did major street scaping renovation to make a busy street pedestrian friendly with ballooned curves, planters ...)
The neighborhood was outraged. Increased traffic in a neighborhood of young families that attended the local elementary, more garbage, noise and the pollution from the standing cars on a lot that was too small. Went to the plan commission, opposed it and they agreed unanimously.
McDonald's withdrew from the next zoning board meeting and promised to correct all the problems. Just before Thanksgiving, they go for round two.
This time we have rally in the cold and snow, when kids are sick and every other conceivable problem presented itself. We finally get notice on December 30th of the new millenium.
This time the plan commission listens to McDonald's. One of the members of Plan Commission works for the company that did the traffic study which changed everytime it was challenged, and that this entire approval rests on. To add insult to injury the commissioner that made the motion says "I will never eat there, but I make a motion that we accept the McDonald's Plan”.
So now we are not only up again a monster business but a corrupt city. Next they need zoning board approval. Neighborhood is furious. We get hundreds of signatures, post over 100 signs in the neighborhood surrounding the area. People are calling and writing to city hall.
Night of the meeting we have TV stations and newspapers. 100 people show up to protest. We have an organized presentation with 8 people touch on specific issues directly addressing the criteria of the zoning board. We were told not to be emotional and stick to the facts. Some of our speakers were TV personalities, professional speakers, lawyers and lay people that lived in the neighborhood.
At the last minute the meeting format was changed so the city could manipulate the group to go last, TV cameras left for 10pm news - we were on afterwards. The meeting lasted 4 hours. People were leaving because they couldn't speak and we lost 4 to 2 vote.
When I questioned the zoning board what would it have taken, they said we needed more factual information, whether it was true or not. There are countless details I could go into. But the bottom line is we got some legal advice from a notable attorney that said this is a low budget operation. I will give you the forms and you file and go serve the city. We did file an appeal. McDonald's closed and as we found out later that they illegally boarded up the building to blight the neighborhood and change public opinion. They did, McDonald's got a neighbor to write a slanderous letter in the local paper about me, a civic leader that has put a lot of time and effort into community projects and been on mayor appointed committees.
We held up building for 6 months. But at trial we lost because the judge wouldn't listen to the case because we had served the city directly and not through a third party. Lawyer tried to argue we acted pro se initially. At the end when we were leaving, the judge said hi to the McDonald's lawyer and spoke with him privately because they knew each other.
The only good news is that the terrible winter has delayed the building project by months. This project, which will prove to be a traffic nightmare, dangerous to area children, dirty, noisy and polluting, has a drive thru on a small lot that will require stopping the drive thru with cones to let the garbage truck proceed through the line and pick up garbage. What we learned, gather money quickly, hire a lawyer immediately to guide you . If you have corrupt government you don't have a chance.
From McSpotlight: Some basic thoughts -
Get a lawyer that specializes in zoning to advise you immediately. Don’t be afraid to hound the city planning commissioner about every detail. Ask the person directly what it does take to win. After our lawsuit with the city we found meeting agendas and notes to the city commissioner from McDonald’s that asked how credible was the opposition and what would it take to beat them. If McD can put on a glitzy campaign, have the commissioner give them the answers to the way to win then you should be able to as well. Don’t be afraid to ask the question what would it take to win and start at the mayor and work down the list. The city is just as beholden to you as it is to McDonald’s.