MINUTES OF THE MEETING OF THE ZONING BOARD OF APPEALS,

TUESDAY, JULY 17, 2012

6:30 P.M., IN COUNCIL CHAMBERS, CITY HALL,

MIDLAND, MICHIGAN

 

1.      ROLL CALL

PRESENT:      Board Members - Green, Higgins, Lichtenwald, and Steele

ABSENT:         Board Members – Siemer

OTHERS PRESENT:       Cindy Winland, Consulting Planner, Cheri King, Community Development Specialist and 5 others.

 

2.   APPROVAL OF MINUTES

It was moved by Higgins and supported by Green to approve the minutes of the June 19, 2012 meeting.  Motion was unanimously approved as presented.

 

3.           PUBLIC HEARINGS

The Chairman explained the public hearing procedures and how the Board decides if the variance request is approved based on the five Zoning Board of Appeals criteria in the Zoning Ordinance.  Mr. Steele reinforced that the variance is legally recorded with the property, is not transferrable, and does not change, despite the ownership of the property.  Mr. Steele offered the petitioners the opportunity to move forward tonight with a Board of four members or wait until next month when we will most likely have a full Board of five members.  Approval of the petition will still require three votes of the Board. 

 

a.      No. 12-06 – McDonalds Corporation for a variance to the required number of parking spaces for a fast food restaurant.  The applicant is asking for a variance of 23 stalls to permit operation with 64 stalls instead of the required 87 stalls for a restaurant of this size.  The property is zoned Regional Commercial and is located at 1711 South Saginaw Road.  This variance has been rescheduled from the June 19, 2012 meeting. 

 

Background: 

 

Justin Boulinger, 631 Hubert, Grand Rapids, MI stated Michael Kazarian is the petitioner but he is representing the architect.  Mr. Boulinger stated they wish to proceed with hearing the case tonight.

 

Cindy Winland showed an aerial photograph of the subject property.  The subject property is 1711 S. Saginaw Road.  The area of the site is has a secondary access onto Haley Street and a primary access onto South Saginaw Road.  This McDonald’s has been here quite some time.  It was built prior to requiring site plan review.  There are approximately 1,137 sq. ft. in the original building.  Parking spaces are based upon usable square footage, not actual square footage.  The site currently has 71 stalls and one drive-thru window.  The drive-thru is in the back of the structure.  The proposal is to add an additional drive-thru.  Seven spaces will be lost as a result of this.  They are requesting a 23 stall reduction in the amount of required parking.  They are asking to permit operating with 64 stalls instead of the required 87 stalls.  The site currently has 71 stalls, which was permitted under a previous zoning ordinance.  The play space is roughly half of the square footage. 

 

Criteria for granting a variance:

(1)   Will strict compliance with restrictions governing area, setback, frontage, height, bulk, density or other non-use matters unreasonably prevent the owner from using the property for a permitted purpose or render conformity unnecessarily burdensome?

 

Petitioner:  Yes, however, McDonald’s would like to improve the existing drive-thru efficiency by adding a side-by-side (SBS) drive-thru.  This improved drive-thru has historically reduced the in-store foot traffic.  In turn, less on-site parking is needed.

 

Staff:  This parcel will continue to be able to be used for a retail or restaurant use even if the variance is not granted.

                       

(2)  The variance will do substantial justice to the applicant as well as to other property owners.

 

      Petitioner:  One of their objectives is to correct their barrier free compliance and conform to the American’s with Disabilities Act. 

 

Staff:  If the ADA requirements necessitate moving and thereby reducing parking stalls, then staff would consider the modifications to do this as both necessary and providing substantial justice to the applicant and other property owners in a similar situation.  The loss of parking spaces due to adding another drive-thru lane would only provide justice if the number of spaces required is considered excessive by the Board of Appeals and a recommendation to reduce the required parking spaces is sent to the Planning Commission.

 

(3)  The variance requested is the minimum variance to provide substantial relief to the applicant and/or be consistent with justice to other property owners.

 

      Petitioner:  Typically the drive-thru traffic counts for 72-75% of the total store volume. There is increasingly less need for parking.

 

      Staff:  Parking standards in many communities are substantially less than one space per 30 square feet of usable floor area for similar uses, indicating that it may be possible for a drive-thru restaurant to function with fewer spaces, but an exact number will need to be justified by the applicant.

 

(4)  The need for the variance is due to the unique characteristics of the property not generally applicable in the area or to other properties in the same zoning district.

 

      Petitioner:  There is a shifting paradigm in the business model for drive-thru restaurants.  The focus now is to satisfy the customers.  This would be true for other drive-thru situations.

 

      Staff:  The unique aspect of this request is not based on the property per se, but on the change in the behavior of customer, per the applicant’s statement.  If it is true that customer behaviors have changed and do not require parking at the required rate, the Board of Appeals may grant a variance and make a recommendation to the Planning Commission to reduce the required parking spaces.

           

(5)  The problem and resulting need for the variance has been created by strict compliance with the Zoning Ordinance and not the applicant.

 

      Petitioner:  No.  McDonald’s is attempting to improve the customer experience by improving the drive-thru speed (reduce waiting).   The loss of seven stalls is required to make the site ADA compliant while also improving/modernizing the drive-thru.  Also, the site currently operates with 71 stalls.  The area of the existing play place skews the usable floor area and thus the ordinance requires more parking spaces than we feel is necessary.

 

      Staff:  Once again, if the reduction in the number of spaces is necessary to meet ADA requirements, the need for the variance is not self created.  If the reduction in parking is as a result of the request to add an additional drive through, it is a self created situation.

 

      Mr. Green stated there is another McDonald’s in town that now has a double drive-thru.  The one on Eastman Avenue did this without changing their parking.  Would federal ADA laws supersede local zoning regulations?    

 

      Mr. Higgins asked about the age of the regulations in Table 5.3, the parking regulations.  Ms. Winland stated the entire ordinance was updated in 2005, however, she does not know when it was last changed prior to that.  The current number of parking spaces makes the parking a legal nonconforming use.  A variance is necessary because they are requesting to reduce the number of parking spaces so they are making the property more non-conforming. 

 

      Justin Boulinger, 1601 Boulander, Grand Rapids, spoke on behalf of the petitioner.  Typically, when they add the drive-thrus, it reduces the number of parking spaces needed on site because it moves cars through the drive thru more quickly.  It helps the traffic flows. 

 

      Mr. Higgins asked why do they have to eliminate the seven parking places to add the additional drive thru lane?  Mr. Boulinger stated part of their five stacking spaces will be in the area where there are now seven parking spaces. They would still have the required number of spaces for handicap parking. 

 

      Carl Brady, 1954 Autumn Glen Drive, Howell, Michigan, McDonald’s Corporation employee.  There are about 16 staff at peak hours.  The seating in that store is approximately 88 seats.  They do not own any extra land that is not currently being used for the building or for parking.  Mr. Brady stated they do not currently use all their parking spaces.  At lunch time, the traffic backs up to the street and McDonald’s loses business.  About 75 percent of their customers go through the drive-thru.  They will be able to handle 20 or 30 more cars per hour with the second drive through lane at peak times. 

 

      Mr. Lichtenwald asked about their ADA spaces.  Has anyone filed a complaint?  Mr. Boulinger stated the slope is inadequate for their existing ADA spaces.  The drive-thru is their main concern but the ADA compliance was something they decided to add into the plan. 

 

      No one else spoke either in favor of or in opposition to this request.

 

                  Findings of Fact:

1.      It is zoned RC.

2.      The original building was 1137 sq. ft.

3.      In 1995 a play scape addition was added.

4.      The maximum staff, according to the petitioner is 16.

5.      The number of seats in the restaurant is 88, according to the petitioner.

6.      Seven of the parking stalls will be eliminated.

7.      No comments were received.

8.      The property has two exits, one on S. Saginaw Road and the other from Haley Street, to the north.

9.      The drive-thru is designed for traffic to exit onto S. Saginaw Road.

10.  The ten spaces for stacking are from the entry onto the site to the pick-up window.

11.  The petitioner determined that 87 parking spaces are required, based upon gross square footage.

 

It was moved by Higgins and supported by Lichtenwald to approve Petition No. 12-06 based on the findings of fact for an area/dimension variance at 1711 South Saginaw Road for a variance of 23 stalls to permit operation with 64 stalls instead of the required 87 stalls for a restaurant of this size.

 

Mr. Higgins: The ordinance states one parking space is required for every three people in the restaurant without a drive-thru.  A non drive thru restaurant would require fewer parking spaces, even though people all go inside to eat. Because there is only one drive-thru lane, traffic backs up onto Saginaw Road.  It does substantial justice to the applicant because they are losing customers and because it creates a problem coming out onto Saginaw Road.  Things have changed in our society in the past 10 years.  Fewer people are sitting and more people are using the drive- thru spaces.  The ordinance does not recognize the paradigm.  He thinks they should recommend the Planning Commission evaluate the number of parking places needed.

 

Mr. Lichtenwald:  The facility can be used just like it is now.  The real issue here is knowing how many spaces are really needed at the site. The first criteria is not met.  There is nothing unique about this property.  No one knows the total spaces really required.

 

Mr. Green agreed with Mr. Higgins.  He feels there have been changes and they should recommend that the Planning Commission look at the number of spaces required.  He is also concerned about the Americans with Disabilities Act and the numbers of spaces available.

 

Mr. Steele stated he is disappointed that they do not have the accurate number of spaces required by the ordinance. The seven spaces that are there now are not usable in the present configuration. 

 

                  Vote on the motion:

 

      Steele:  Yes

      Lichtenwald:  No

      Green:  Yes

      Higgins:  Yes

      Siemer:  Absent

     

                  The motion to approve Petition 12-06 passed by a vote of 3-1. 

 

4.   PUBLIC COMMENTS (not related to items on the agenda)

None

 

5.   OLD BUSINESS

      None

 

6.   NEW BUSINESS

 

Mr. Higgins recommended that Ms. Winland go back to the Planning Commission and review the parking standards in the Zoning Ordinance.  There needs to be a definition of “usable floor space”.  There are five categories in the ordinance that need to be revisited and possibly rewritten to be based on the number of seats.   

 

7.   DECISION SHEET SIGNATURES

      a.  12-04 Review Findings of Fact

      b.  12-05 Review Findings of Fact

 

8.   ADJOURNMENT

      Hearing no further business, the Chairman adjourned the meeting at 7:34 p.m.

 

Respectfully submitted,

Cynthia E. Winland, AICP

Consulting Planner