A proposed zoning code amendment approved last week by the Planning Commission opens up the much sought after high-traffic streets as potential locations for all types of eateries including fast-food restaurants.
Although the holders of a McDonald’s franchise have been looking for a site in Solon, this amendment was not specifically geared to this fast-food establishment.
City Planning Director Robert S. Frankland said last week that an amendment to the zoning code allowing for the full range of restaurant uses will bring uniformity among the city’s commercial zoning districts and also address a growing trend of adding drive-thru food pick-up windows to eateries.
“There are more and more requests for quick casual restaurants to have some type of drive-thru facility,” Mr. Frankland said. Restaurants could not even pursue this option even as a zoning variance because this is considered a use issue and must be approved by voters, he explained.
Mr. Frankland said easy access to carryout food is a nationwide trend.
The amendment is not intended to address an eatery like McDonald’s, which closed in the city on Aurora Road in 2015, he said. Instead, it would expand the areas with high-traffic counts where restaurants could be located.
The amendment would allow for all restaurants, fast food, casual and sit down, in the C-6 district, which is the plaza on SOM Center Road where Marc’s is located as well as an area on the west side of Solon Road between Bainbridge and Aurora roads.
“If you look at Aldi [supermarket] and Hobby Lobby, it’s a high-intensive commercial classification,” Mr. Frankland said, “and it does not permit drive-thrus.” In fact, that site currently does not allow any restaurants at all.
“That is obviously something that needs to be addressed,” he said.
“There has been no discussion about McDonald’s going there,” Mr. Frankland noted, but business people who hold a franchise for the fast-food restaurant have looked at various sites in Solon.
“They have specific needs in terms of traffic counts,” he said. “We want them here and hope they can find a site that works for them.”
The restaurant chain, formerly located at 33560 Aurora Road, was one of the few free-standing McDonald’s restaurants in the entire country with no drive-thru. That location closed in 2015.
This McDonald’s franchise holder had presented to the city plans in 2010 for a state-of-the-art restaurant at the northeast corner of SOM Centre an Aurora Road where the Chase Bank now is located.
The franchise owner had promised a more than $2 million investment in a 4,000 square foot building proposed at the time as well as a 20-year commitment to remain in Solon.
Concerns about traffic flow and accessibility in and out of the site ultimately led to a denial by the city of parking variances and the overall site plan. The restaurant, which many opponents said would have overbuilt the site, was to be situated on a 0.93 acre parcel.
After the franchise owner’s application was rejected in December of 2010, McDonalds USA LLC filed an administrative appeal against Solon City Council in the Cuyahoga County Court of Common Pleas. The case was eventually voluntarily dismissed without prejudice by McDonald’s in June of 2011.
“Their real estate people are always watching,” Mr. Frankland said of McDonald’s, “but nothing has got to a point of any type of drawings where they proceeded.”
The proposed amendment would also allow fast-food restaurants as a permitted use in the C-2 district along Kruse Drive in the area of the Uptown Solon Shopping Center and vicinity. Currently in that district only sit-down and quick-casual restaurants, similar to a Chipotle, are permitted.
This change would bring the C-2 (restricted commercial) and C-6 (general commercial) zoning districts in line with the city’s other commercial zoning districts, Mr. Frankland explained, which already allow all restaurants. Those include the C-3 district, which is the area of the Solon Square Shopping Center on Aurora Road; the C-3-A district, which is the Giant Eagle Market District area at SOM Center and Aurora roads, the C-4 area, which is where a Burntwood, Rose Italian Kitchen and Chick-fil-A are located in the area of Solon Road near SOM Center Road; and the C-5 district, which is the area along Enterprise Parkway near the AMC Classic Solon 16.
The C-2 and C-6 are the only two commercial districts, other than the historic commercial districts, that do not allow for the full range of restaurant uses, Mr. Frankland explained.
“This would make the different commercial districts the same,” he said, “and make the principal commercial classifications more uniform on restaurants at least.”
This also opens up the range of uses that developers can use,” he said.
City Council will most likely make a decision on the matter next month, Mr. Frankland said, for placement on the March primary ballot in 2020.