That’s what the volunteers who serve on Lakewood’s Architectural Board of Review will need as The McDonalds Corporation marches along with its plan to relocate from Sloane Avenue to the Detroit Avenue address where the Detroit Twin Theater now stands.
As you’ve read here before, the city was caught flat-footed when the company surfaced with the intent of buying the theater and demolishing it to build a new fast food outlet. There was nothing anyone could do. No municipal power to stand in the way of the business transaction. No investor has surfaced with an alternate plan for the building and a competing bid for purchase.
I say flat footed because the city has built a reputation and a brand on the idea of being a pedestrian oriented place, and yet is powerless to preserve some of the qualities that make it attractive. Having a main street scaled for walking is our inheritance from the streetcar era. We’ve recognized that its pedestrian friendly layout and early twentieth century architecture are the city’s strongest selling point. Crocker Park is faking it. Lakewood has the real deal.
The architectural board of review are the volunteers who preserve that selling point. They do it in the best interest of the city—the economic best interest. Because Lakewood’s walkable streets can draw people here. It’s a desirable place to live in part because it’s a nice place to walk. That’s worth money. It’s not a resource to be squandered.
The ABR—the same guys who say no to front porch enclosures to preserve the appeal of our residential streets—they also preserve our walkable commercial streets as an economic asset. They are on the front line as McDonalds stomps along with plans more appropriate for highway exits than an urban main street.
And if you care about how Lakewood looks and feels—if you like to walk or ride your bike in the city, if you think your old house is part of something larger—a community —if you’re one of those people who cares, then you owe these guys a debt of gratitude, especially after their work last week, when the fast food giant brought concepts for the layout of the property.
Last week the ABR listened and responded as four officials from McDonalds, including local architect Jim Larsen, showed where they’d put the drive through, how much space they’d allocate for the building after most of the property’s square footage was covered with traffic lanes and parking, and a few other details of their project so far. They talked about light fixtures.
McDonalds wants you to enter from Detroit and drive around the back of the building. The Drive Thru window would be on the east side. Traffic would exit to Woodward. As presented, it would dump out right in front of Woodward’s stop sign at Detroit Avenue. They want to set the building back from the curb, like buildings in North Olmsted. Most of the property –guestimating from the pictures, I’d say in the realm of 80 percent–would be covered with asphalt. The building is a fairly small part of this drive-through circulation system. Their nod to the city’s pedestrian-oriented streetscape begins with some of those dining tables out front, and ends with a bike rack.
But the AbR guys did the city proud, telling them their move from Sloane is a move from a suburban-style strip—with parking lots out front, and the building set far back from the street—to the pedestrian oriented heart of the city. “This has been all about traffic circulation,” one member of the board noted, “and this is a pedestrian neighborhood.”
Courage. Give the ARB courage. It’s not going to be a short conversation about how the fast food giant stomps its footprint on Detroit Avenue. They are going to have to raise their objections over and over again.
Members of the ABR talked about how the drive thru and its exit to Woodward would almost certainly cause traffic to back up both in the street and in their parking lot. They pointed out the small size of the building footprint McDonalds showed in its plans, and spoke of the loss of the volume of the building that houses the theatre. They said big buildings built right up to the sidewalk give Detroit the feel of a city. McDonalds, as presented here and in most of its 31,000 other places around the world, does not.
The ABR pointed to the Theater’s position on the sidewalk, and noted McDonalds plan didn’t follow that line.
They talked about how another national chains moving a stores from one lakewood location to demolish another had adapted its original proposal to fit the city better.
Sure, CVS will knock down a church with its copper-green steeple visible from a mile down Detroit. But what they’ll build in its place isn’t a complete snub of the local style. Thank the ABR for that.
The volunteers reminded the McDonalds reps of other locations around the country where the company dramatically varied from its cookie cutter plans to build something appropriate for the neighborhood.
Why couldn’t they do that here? Was the implied question.
So if you know any of the members of the Architecectural Board of Review –Michael Fleenor, Jeffery Foster, Michael Molinski, Carl Orban, or John Waddell—thank them for their service, and pat them on the back for standing up on behalf of a good looking, great walking city.
They did a great job outlining Lakewood’s concerns the other night. They may not be able to save the streetcar-era building, but maybe they can get something that doesn’t jam up traffic at Woodward and Detroit, something that preserves the architectural lines of the street, something that doesn’t look like nowheresville, something not quite so McCheesey.