McDonald’s held up by traffic safety concerns

Photo by Kyle Szymanski

Oakley officials intend to further study the traffic safety concerns of allowing a McDonald’s drive-thru to be established in Laurel Plaza, across the street from Laurel Elementary School, before deciding how the project should proceed.

Oakley leaders have put plans for a future McDonald’s at Laurel Plaza on hold until the impacts of the facility’s drive-thru on Laurel Elementary School across the street can be evaluated.

McDonald’s officials appeared before the council in late May in an attempt to garner the city-required conditional use permit for the proposed project’s drive-thru service use, but the issue was tabled after city officials heard a flood of concerns about the project’s possible impacts on Laurel Elementary School students, who frequent the plaza area before and after school.

“A lot of the focus has been on the safety of the kids, but past traffic studies make no mention of children,” said City Councilmember George Fuller.

The proposed 4,365-square-foot quick-serve restaurant with dine-in and drive-thru service would front Laurel Road, about 300 feet west of O’Hara Avenue, within Laurel Plaza, on the northwest corner of Laurel Road and O’Hara Avenue — just across the street from Laurel Elementary School at 1141 Laurel Road.

Many of the more than 15 public speakers pleaded with the council to stop the project, due to concerns that increased traffic would jeopardize the children’s safety.

The area’s previously adopted regulations, however, clear the way for any restaurant without a drive-thru, meaning that the council can only halt the restaurant’s drive-thru, not the restaurant itself.

“A McDonald’s or a fast-food restaurant, or any restaurant that does not include a drive-thru, would be automatically permitted,” Oakley City Attorney Derek Cole said.

Regardless of established regulations, many residents said the project is a bad idea.

“It is too near the school, which will create multiple traffic hazards for children going to and from school,” said resident Liz Elias. “Kids cross that street and enter that shopping center to get to their pickup rides, regardless of whether or not (using the plaza for school-related parking needs) is allowed.”

Oakley Union Elementary School District officials did not return requests for comment as of press time.

Brad Goldblatt, a representative of the proposed restaurant’s franchisee, declined to comment during the public meeting, when given time to respond to residents’ concerns.

City staff pointed out they required project officials to submit a proposed traffic report, which found the restaurant and a proposed Quick Quack Car Wash next door would together generate fewer vehicular trips than what was anticipated for the plaza when it was approved in 2008.

The plaza currently features only a gas station, convenience store and bank, but at one point it was expected to feature a Rite Aid pharmacy and possibly a Fresh & Easy grocery store, a coffee shop and other stores.

“It (the traffic study) says this project today doesn’t create any new impacts that aren’t already assumed to exist out there eventually,” said Oakley Principal Planner Ken Strelo. “So when we hear comments like it’s going to be a danger to the children, those are great comments and valid concerns in my opinion, but the traffic study hasn’t found any evidence that the McDonald’s and the Quick Quack would add any impacts or dangers that weren’t already assumed to exist with the commercial center next to Laurel Road next to a school.”

Vice Mayor Randy Pope, however, noted that none of those traffic studies were included in the council’s packet of information prepared before the meeting.

He also was unsure whether those studies included analysis of the project’s possible pedestrian impacts.

“We are not ready to hear this item,” he said.

Interim Oakley City Manager Josh McMurray said city leaders have yet to decide the full scope of the study or when that study will take place.

“Selecting a firm is the next task,” he said. “We should know more in the coming weeks.”

Safety concerns aside, Strelo said it appears that the drive-thru would meet key requirements to be located in the area.

The parcel’s 1.7-acre size and shape are adequate for the drive-thru and restaurant; the project proposes adding 71 parking spaces — much more than are required; Laurel Road and O’Hara Avenue can both accommodate the increased traffic; the proposed project meets design and California Environmental Quality Act guidelines; and any overflow traffic would be confined to the center, not spilling out into the street.

If approved, it’s expected that the project would have driveways located on the right and left sides of the parcel that comes into Laurel Plaza, and the McDonald’s would feature a double drive-thru.