Farmington commission, residents say ‘no’ to Burger King

Farmington Planning Commission members on Monday voted 6-1 to deny a special land use permit that would have allowed a Burger King in the northwest corner of Lakeway and Grand River.

Lakeway & Grand River

Carrols Corporation, the largest Burger King franchisee in the country, wanted to build a 3,065-square-foot, one-story restaurant and drive-through. That use is allowed under the property’s C-2 zoning, with a special land use permit. However, applications must meet five specific criteria.

Company representatives said the project met those standards; residents vehemently disagreed, in the form of a 30-page response and a petition signed by about 100 residents and business owners.

Burger King Planning Commission meeting
Flanked by engineer Mark Mathe and real estate manager Amanda Aldridge, Farmington Hills attorney Ronn Nadis speaks about the Burger King plan.

Plan changes

Engineer Mark Mathe of Mannik Smith Group said plan changes based on residents’ comments from an initial presentation in June included increasing the height of a masonry wall and arborvitae and adding spruce trees to provide screening taller than the drive-through order boards. The company would also work with the city to fix an issue with access to a sewer line.

Responding to a question about sound, Ronn Nadis, an attorney with Farmington Hills-based Couzens Lansky, said the equipment is designed to adjust volume based on ambient noise. The level at the closest property line would reach about 36 decibels – which he described as “a whisper or less”.

The ‘old’ Burger King

Nadis explained that the company did not own a shuttered Burger King building further west on Grand River, but purchased the franchise area. Carrols real estate manager Amanda Aldridge said building on that property wasn’t an option, because it was too small.

Nadis pointed out that a sit-down restaurant is a permitted use and would bring the same issues with noise, traffic, odors, and other concerns. Also among his comments:

  • Burger Kings typically divert traffic; they’re primarily used by people in the neighborhood or who are already passing by.
  • Lakeway does have a problem related to Farmington High traffic, but it has nothing to do with the project and should be taken up with the city.
  • LED lighting would not spill off the site, but would be directed downward to illuminate the parking lot.
  • Controlling trash and odors is a shared concern, because the franchisee wants to maintain a site that’s attractive to customers.

Nadis said he sent a letter on June 25 asking residents to share their concerns, but no one responded.

‘For us, it’s no Burger King.’

Resident Michael Ritenour, an attorney, took credit for that during public comment. He said he advised residents to not respond because “there’s nothing we can do to talk Carrols out of this location. For us, it’s no Burger King. There was nothing that could be addressed with them.”

Residents got their say during public comment, raising concerns over safety, increased traffic with Harrison students moving to Farmington High, the project’s noncompliance with the Master Plan, lack of harmony with existing businesses (most operating from 9 a.m.-5 p.m.), concerns about students frequenting the restaurant, and the overall impact on their neighborhoods.

“This does not harmonize with the character of a quiet, residential street,” resident Tess Wolfe said. “It does not harmonize with the 13 other local businesses.”

No ‘reasonable expectation’

In their written response, residents noted that the city’s Master Plan “allows residents, business owners and developers to make property investments with a reasonable expectation of what will happen to their surroundings in the future.” Several who spoke mentioned living in the area for years, with no expectation of a drive-through restaurant.

“If this was you and your family faced with this development, would you support it?” resident Hallie Bard asked.

Motion to deny

Almost immediately following the public hearing, planning commissioner Cathi Waun offered a motion to deny the permit, based on findings that included:

  • incompatibility with the goals, objectives, and policies of the city’s Master Plan and future use designation as a low-intensity neighborhood center;
  • lack of harmony with the character of the neighborhood;
  • incompatibility with other uses in the area;
  • a reduced intensity on the site over the years, from a bank with a drive-through to a home health care business, making a return to auto-intensive use inconsistent;
  • excessive production of noise, smoke, and other odors, and an overall character that promotes elevated noise; and
  • no waiting spaces for vehicles in the drive-through, which would obstruct egress to the site.

Economic and Community Development Director Kevin Christiansen said the commission’s decision is final. The company could mount a challenge in Circuit Court.

Later in the meeting, commissioner Miriam Kmetzo, who cast the lone opposition vote, asked what would prevent another fast food restaurant from submitting an application.

Christiansen said commissioners can deal with any concern by amending the zoning ordinance or the Master Plan, through a public process. He said after the Commission approves the most recent Master Plan update, there’s typically an audit of zoning ordinances.

Learn more

Read agenda packet materials and watch video of the June 30 and July 8 meetings: farmgov.com/City-Services/Government/Agendas-and-Minutes/Planning/2019.