‘What we call ‘Progress,’” said Henry Havelock Ellis, the 19th century social reformer, “is the exchange of one nuisance for another nuisance.”
He wasn’t talking about the corner of Washington Street and Hillside Avenue, but certainly could have been.
A couple of years ago, as you’ll recall, McDonald’s proposed building a restaurant on that corner, which is currently occupied by an inactive Citgo station. It was to be open 24 hours a day and be primarily a drive-through operation. Although it was recommended by the Planning and Zoning Commission, the City Council denied it.
It would, they said, make traffic congestion much worse, especially in the morning, noon, and evening rush periods. In fact, they used the word “nightmare,” which might seem like an exaggeration until you’re stuck at that intersection for two or three cycles of the lights, when it might seem like an understatement.
In addition, it would attract “riff raff,” which like pornography is hard to define but easy to identify, be a nuisance to the neighbors on Melody Lane, bring unwanted traffic to the adjacent neighborhood, and interfere with students traveling to Central High School. No, they said, the very last thing we want at that location is a 24-hour restaurant that is primarily a drive-through operation.
However, the very next proposal for that property to go before the Planning and Zoning Commission was a 24-hour Dunkin’ Donuts that would be primarily a drive-through operation. It too would generate its maximum traffic during the rush periods, and have exactly the same effects on the surrounding neighborhood. That may seem like progress to some, doughnuts instead of hamburgers, but only the Havelock Ellis kind. What part of “we don’t want a drive-through” didn’t they understand?
And did everyone forget that in the time between the two proposals something important changed? Did it slip everyone’s mind that the Park District and the city agreed to extend the Riverwalk from Hillside down to Martin? Didn’t it occur to anyone that the Riverwalk then would be essentially adjacent to the drive-through lanes on the east side of the building, which would be an ugly, featureless solid brick wall?
If that’s the kind of thing we’re going to approve, I don’t think we should even bother to extend the Riverwalk. It’s bad enough that it has to go behind an electrical substation. Why would we ever want new construction that would be so unsightly, and which would force parents to push their strollers alongside a line of idling cars waiting to buy coffee and force their kids to breathe exhaust fumes?
I realize that the Dunkin’ Donuts organization has a limited choice of building plans and strict rules for their drive-through operations. But why let corporate franchise regulations dictate how this property, in which so many people have a legitimate interest, will be developed?
This is an amazing opportunity for someone to open, for example, a small restaurant selling foods that would be complementary to what Brown’s Chicken sells and that would also have a riverside eating area alongside the Riverwalk. Ironically, coffee, doughnuts, desserts, novelty sandwiches, and hot chocolate in the winter would be ideal and would be very successful, but not if they had to be wedded to a drive-through to maximize profits.
We really need to let people know what the city’s vision is for any particular area, what plans they’re most likely to entertain, and especially what the deal breakers are, because that obviously wasn’t clear in this case.
Of course, that means the city actually has to have a vision. Maybe that’s the hard part.