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06/05/02 . Christopher Hume . The Toronto Star . CANDADA
Now we know what Big Mac Attack really means.
In launching an appeal of a recently passed city bylaw banning drive-throughs on St. Clair Ave. W., McDonald's has turned against the communities it serves.
Even after Toronto city council passed an interim control bylaw to stop drive-throughs on St. Clair between Bathurst and Oakwood, the fast-food giant has decided to take its case to court. If that doesn't work out, it will appeal to the Ontario Municipal Board.
The bylaw was passed in response to McDonald's announcement last year that it would rebuild the outlet at St. Clair and Christie St. and add a drive-through. Not surprisingly, local residents weren't thrilled with the proposal. They organized well-attended demonstrations and generally let it be known that they are deeply opposed to the idea.
Despite the outcry, McDonald's is charging ahead with its misguided scheme, one that calls for a drive-through behind a new two-storey building. In the suburbs, maybe, but in a mid-town pedestrian-friendly neighbourhood full of seniors and kids, it makes no sense.
"It's not a lawsuit," insists Victor Lebreche, McDonald's manager of development planning. "We're only submitting an appeal to the OMB and the Ontario Divisional Court. We're following the Planning Act process, not doing anything out of the ordinary."
Therein lies the problem.
Instead of doing the right thing, McDonald's has put its own corporate agenda ahead of the clearly stated concerns of hundreds of people who live in the area.
"The city will fight this," declares Councillor Joe Mihevc (Ward 21, St. Paul's). "McDonald's has shown contempt for the city's official plan, the advice of every city planner and the community along St. Clair. For McDonald's, profits are more important than good planning and community concerns."
"I can appreciate some of the community's concerns," Lebreche concedes. "But overall, I think it's positive for the street and the community."
Lebreche's argument is that the franchisee will spend $2 million rebuilding the St. Clair outlet and that it will "allow for another form of distributing our product to our customers."
Besides, he adds, "There will be only a marginal increase in the amount of traffic, probably no more than 30 to 40 cars per hour." That's considerably less than the 80 cars critics say the drive-through will attract.
Lebreche confirms McDonald's has heard the protesters' message but calls it the work of "a core group of between 100 and 150 people." That would strike most of us as a pretty healthy core group, though clearly not enough to worry McDonald's unduly.
Lebreche also dismisses the bylaw as part of a plot to stop, or at least slow McDonald's Manifest Destiny. The law, he argues, "was pointed directly at McDonald's and for that reason is very flawed."
Of course, the measure was intended to halt the drive-through. But the problem isn't the bylaw, it's that city didn't ban drive-throughs in the first place. (Some residents blame this oversight on the fact that this stretch of St. Clair falls on the border between the former East York and Toronto.)
Drive-throughs have no place in an urban centre, Toronto included, that values itself and its residents.
The promise of convenience offered by the McDonald's drive-through is an illusion. What users gain, residents lose. Whose convenience should get precedence?
The answer depends on whether you see Torontonians as citizens first or consumers.
The choice should be obvious, but as we rush to hand over the city and our public institutions to private interests - read, corporate interests - it has become increasingly blurred.
Another reason we deserve a break today.
Christopher Hume can be reached at email@example.com