By Ryan Cornell
MIDDLETOWN -- Opinions are split on the design of A McDonald's restaurant proposed near the intersection of Interstate 81 and Reliance Road in Middletown.
Community residents and town officials voiced concerns about the height of the restaurant's sign, the amount of parking spaces in its lot and the traffic flow leading into it at a planning commission meeting on Monday night.
The plans call for a single-story, 4,393-square-foot location with 76 seats and 44 parking spaces. It wouldn't comply with the town's zoning regulations of 98 spaces for a business that size, but officials said it might be excepted because of its drive-thru.
The proposed drive-thru contains two side-by-side order lanes that merge before the first window.
Carmen DiDiano, general manager of McIlvried, DiDiano & Mox LLC, said this particular McDonald's matches their "Fast Forward" design, which enables a speedier drive-thru experience. DiDiano said more than 60 percent of McDonald's sales are "driven" by drive-thru sales.
His engineering firm is one of a dozen that work for the McDonald's corporation in the Baltimore-Washington, D.C., region. He said the Middletown site was first chosen about nine months ago.
"The McDonald's corporation does very extensive demographics studies," he said. "They're always looking to expand their market share. Those demographics studies that are done target gaps in the markets that they feel present opportunities for them to capture some of those customers they might otherwise be missing."
The closest McDonald's locations from Middletown are in Strasburg and Stephens City, both about five miles away.
One topic that raised concern was the height of the McDonald's sign proposed. Officials said it might add to the light pollution and destroy the "viewscape" of the town. One commission member worried the sign might be seen from Cedar Creek and Belle Grove National Historic Park.
"There's always some particular issue in every community," DiDiano said. "It can vary from something as simple as the number of parking stalls to the local labor. There's always some concerns."
DiDiano said McDonald's signs can range from 50 to 120 feet high and are usually visible from a quarter mile before the exit ramp. He said the proposed sign is 200 square feet in size and is the largest sign the company has.
The sign advertising the Liberty gas station is 125 feet high.
"In a situation like this, some of the things that were discussed tonight are easily addressed by McDonald's to make us a better fit for the community," DiDiano said. "But there are certainly some things that McDonald's will feel are necessary for them to be successful here in Middletown."
The annual revenue generated by an average McDonald's location is $3 million. DiDiano said there has been no owner or operator selected for the business yet and the company usually tries to recruit employees from the area.
A traffic study of the location by the Virginia Department of Transportation is being conducted.
Contact staff writer Ryan Cornell at 540-465-5137 ext. 164, or firstname.lastname@example.org