McDonald’s hunger to plant its signature golden arches in Wilmette won’t be satisfied any time soon.
During their Tuesday, Jan. 9 regular meeting, Wilmette trustees voted unanimously against the fast-food giant’s proposal to bring one of its drive-thru restaurants to the former Baker’s Square site at 200 Skokie Blvd.
The board’s denial of the national corporation’s request, which came via a 6-0 vote as trustee Stephen Leonard was not present at the meeting, counters a narrow recommendation of approval made by Wilmette zoning commissioners last month.
As previously reported by The Record, McDonald’s proposal called for the construction of a 4,100-square-foot restaurant with a drive-thru at the Wilmette site that’s been vacant since Baker’s Square’s departure in 2019.
Trustees distaste toward McDonald’s plans related to several aspects of its application but a key point of contention among the board was the proposal’s drive-thru.
“While drive-thrus might be appropriate in some places — and we have drive-thrus in Wilmette at almost every bank — this is a different kind of drive-thru,” Trustee Gina Kennedy said, prefacing her comments by noting her opinion that the proposal did not meet “a number of the special-use standards.”
“The reason that drive-thrus are permitted in that location is because a drive-thru of some kind might be appropriate but a drive-thru with this kind of volume and this kind of traffic and this kind of potential for disrupting the neighborhood is not appropriate,” Kennedy added. “It’s not a bank drive-thru. It’s not even close.”
Trustee Justin Shepherd found encouraging parts of the proposal, but like the rest of the board, could not get past the high-volume drive-thru at this location.
“I do see some positives to McDonald’s,” he said. “It’s a place where a lot of people can gather. It’s a place where people get jobs and it generates revenue, but it’s the idea of where it’s located, and having a drive-thru in the neighborhood retail (zoning district) is very problematic for me.”
Wilmette Village President Senta Plunkett echoed the concerns of several of her fellow trustees while sharing her opposition to the proposal, noting that the proposed location at the northeast corner of Skokie Boulevard and Old Glenview Road was not the right fit for a project of this scale.
“I do not believe that this site can handle the high-volume drive-thru that is described here and while that is the whole purpose of our special-use permit, and while a drive-thru may be permitted, this is probably the most-intense-volume drive-thru that you could have, so I do not think that is appropriate on this site,” Plunkett said.
Before her concluding remarks, Plunkett said the board has spent “hours and hours on this case.”
Trustee Gerry Smith said he was “compelled” by the premise of bringing a big-name corporation like McDonald’s to Wilmette but also expressed his belief that the proposed location on Skokie Boulevard was not the right spot for the restaurant.
“This is not the right opportunity in the right location,” he said. “This is not the right corner for McDonald’s.”
How we got here
McDonald’s representatives presented details about the project during a zoning board of appeals meeting in early December of 2023.
Wilmette’s zoning board recommended McDonald’s plans by a one-vote margin, 4-3, at the Dec. meeting, which was the first public review of the company’s vision for a Wilmette location. But the Village Board’s Jan. 9 decision puts an end to the restaurant’s proposal.
Restaurant representatives said at the Dec. 6 meeting that the parking lot included in the proposed site suggested 28 parking stalls and the drive-thru could accommodate 17 stacked cars. Between 15 and 18 employees were expected to be on site per shift.
Project plans showed that the drive-thru was planned for the west, south and east sides of the building and would include three windows.
McDonald’s officials previously estimated the Wilmette location could see approximately 1,000 transactions per day. Between 70-80 percent of visitors are expected to utilize the drive-thru, which was an aspect of the proposal that drew concern from both residents and commissioners.
Representatives did note at the Jan. 9 meeting that the previously suggested numbers would be reduced given the recommended change in operating hours.
In its deliberations following McDonald’s presentation in December, Wilmette zoning commissioners added a condition to their approval recommendation to include a 10 p.m., instead of 1 a.m., closing time.
Jim Olguin, a zoning attorney representing McDonald’s, attempted to ease some of the concerns surrounding the company’s plans for Wilmette during the Jan. 9 meeting.
“What’s being proposed is really McDonald’s most current, most efficient design,” Olguin said. He later added that, “the project we’re proposing works on this site and is something that would enhance the area.”
Since plans were first introduced in the summer of 2023, neighbors near the property have expressed concerns about potential negative effects of the project, such as parking congestion, traffic management, safety, noise, environmental pollution, and cohesion within the neighborhood.
The property nearly became another restaurant, Murray Bros. Caddyshack, recently, but in 2022 ownership scrapped the idea, which was also protested by some neighbors.
In the weeks since the approval recommendation from the zoning board, neighborhood opposition has only intensified, as reported by The Record.
Residents speak out
There was no shortage of residential disapproval at the Jan. 9 meeting, as three dozen residents addressed the board to express their opposition to the proposal during the public comment portion of the meeting. One resident, Mark Weyermuller, did speak in favor of the project.
Dana Bator, a Wilmette resident who lives on Old Glenview Road, argued that McDonald’s proposal did not meet the burden of proof required in special-use permit requests.
“This is an unnecessary, unwelcome and inappropriate addition,” Bator said. “Not to mention, an undue burden on the immediate safety and well-being of Wilmette residents. This village is not a highway rest stop. I implore you to not hasten its transformation into one.”
Resident Alan Levy asked the board to consider a study of the village’s portion of the Skokie Boulevard to determine more effective uses for the property.
“I implore the village board to unequivocally tonight deny the application or at the very least table this item until a comprehensive Skokie Boulevard study is done,” he said.
“Village boards leave legacies,” Levy later added. “I don’t know if this board wants to leave the legacy of turning Skokie Boulevard into a national franchise.”
Wilmette’s Susan Gottlieb told trustees that “Wilmette can do better than a drive-thru McDonald’s. Wilmette has done better.”
Although McDonald’s current proposal did not receive much support from the board, trustees did show some willingness to consider either a scaled-down application at the Skokie Boulevard site or a restaurant at a different location in the village.
“I’ve talked to a number of residents and people who work in this community and many want a McDonald’s in this community and I want a McDonald’s potentially in this community and I want you to hear that,” said Trustee Kathy Dodd, who chairs the Village Board’s land-use subcommittee.
Dodd said she struggled when considering this request but ultimately noted that she could not support the current plan due to concerns related to safety, proximity to residential housing and the volume of cars and hours of operation.
She did, however, encourage the company to take another swing in Wilmette.
“I encourage McDonald’s to look at another site,” she said. “I encourage them to consider coming into our community. I encourage you to reevaluate your plan on this site. Maybe you decide to not do a drive-thru. I’m going to speak for just myself; I might even support a more reduced drive-thru on this location.”
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Martin Carlino is a co-founder and the senior editor who assigns and edits The Record stories, while also bylining articles every week. Martin is an experienced and award-winning education reporter who was the editor of The Northbrook Tower.