September 25, 2022

After failed McDonald’s expansion, two new business set for Schenectady’s Upper Union Street

SCHENECTADY –  It remains to be seen what the husband and wife owners of a failed multi-million dollar proposal to retool and expand the McDonald’s on Upper Union Street will do next.

Last week, an email from Schenectady Metroplex Development Authority announcing the sale of 1671 Union St. next to the fast-food restaurant by the Lecce Group seemed to catch a  lot of people off guard.

Lecce, who has done other projects on Upper Union Street, already has two tenants, b.inspired home and Storied Coffee, set to open up shop at the location in November.

The building formerly housed Mr. Wasabi, a Japanese restaurant, and Simon’s Men’s Wear, and would have been torn down had the McDonald’s plan moved forward.

Planning Commission Chairwoman Mary Moore Wallinger said Friday that she did a celebratory dance when she learned of the news.

“I feel like the neighbors really came out, the community was very vocal about this project, I feel like the commissioners put a lot of time and thought into reviewing it and really stood by the zoning code and design guidelines that we have in place and articulated why those things are important,” she said. “I’m thrilled that they’re going to be developed and that they’re going to be on-street retail again.”

Some homeowners in this quiet neighborhood expressed fear that the proposed McDonald’s expansion, which included adding a second drive-thru, would destroy the charm and character of the popular business district while making it less pedestrian-friendly.

Plans called for knocking down the vacant store next door on Union Street and a residential structure behind it on Dean Street to make way for the 4,350 square-foot eatery at 1673 Union St.

Besides site plan approval, the fast-food company was also seeking a special use permit because of the drive-thru and two variances for the project, one of them for exceeding the number of parking spaces for the lot as permitted by the city’s zoning laws.

McDonald’s withdrew its application for the project on June 30, according to the city development office, about a month after city planning officials voted unanimously to shelve the multi-million dollar proposal.

Wallinger said she wasn’t worried that planning officials might be inadvertently sending a message the wrong message to business owners eyeing a move to Upper Union.

“I think making that kind of statement says that we value our small businesses and we’re working very hard to create an environment that is most conducive to them thriving,” said Wallinger. “I think there’s things they (McDonald’s) could have done on site  that would have fit into that fabric a lot better and maybe someday they’ll consider that.”

In May, John Reeher, who co-owns the McDonald’s with his wife, Kathie, told the Times Union that  “the plan that we’ve presented is the best plan for the business, and the plan I can support and makes sense for me financially.” He did not return a call to his cell phone Friday seeking comment.

Tom Carey, president of the 12309/Upper Union Neighborhood Association, which came out against some parts of the proposed McDonald’s project, said Friday they were happy about the outcome and looking forward to the new businesses opening up shop at 1671 Union St.

“We’re happy the building got saved and it just shows that it was a viable building,” he said.   We don’t have anything against McDonald’s, just that proposal.”

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