Canton approves variances for eatery

Canton village officials this week approved a sign variance for its proposed McDonald’s on East Main Street, but Canton’s main sign is set to be smaller than the “massive” arches at the Potsdam location, shown above, according to Canton Mayor Michael E. Dalton. Christopher Lenney/Watertown Daily Times

CANTON — The St. Lawrence County seat is a step closer to once again having a village McDonald’s.

During its regular November meeting this week, the village board of trustees approved sign variances for the proposed site, 111 E. Main St. in the Price Chopper parking lot, which is set to be leased by McDonald’s Corporation with no additional Route 11 entrance expected.

The fast food restaurant’s site plan requests three variances from Canton village code for McDonald’s signs, including the main freestanding sign and five exterior wall signs.

Village code restricts freestanding signs to 32 square feet in area and 12 feet above ground, and McDonald’s has requested a 68-square-foot sign, 25 feet tall. The request for five wall signs exceeds the code limit of one sign on the front wall of a building and one on the rear or side wall of any building connected to a parking lot. Two of the requested wall signs, according to the plan, are “arch” style signs 3½ feet tall, which varies from the permitted 2½ feet for wall sign height.

The village planning board referred the requests to the board of trustees, which held a public hearing prior to its virtual meeting Wednesday.

“It’s not unusual that we get these requests,” said village Mayor Michael E. Dalton, who has spent time comparing the McDonald’s requests to existing signs on adjacent lots and in nearby municipalities. “I’m pretty happy that what they’re doing is much more low key than it used to be. It’s not a huge sign out front that they’re asking for.”

Mr. Dalton said the Potsdam McDonald’s, for example, is marked by classic golden arches much larger than the requested freestanding sign for Canton.

At 103 E. Main St. directly west of the proposed McDonald’s, the Mountain Mart sign measures more than 78 square feet, and the Best Western University Inn sign across the street is roughly 40 feet tall, Mr. Dalton estimated.

Town Councilmember Timothy J. Danehy, who has previously chaired the village planning board, attended the virtual public hearing, and like Mr. Dalton, said businesses have long requested similar code variances.

“These sign variances are a prime track from the greatest hits album,” Mr. Danehy said.

What “seems appropriate” as a commercial sign closer to the center of the village, he said, doesn’t necessarily fit larger, set back lots along the stretch of Route 11 near the Route 310 intersection where the McDonald’s is planned.

Mr. Danehy said sign variance hearings are requested for the general commercial, or C2, zoning district more often than they should.

“But I think that’s revealed something in the code that doesn’t work right,” he said, adding that a “one-size-fits-all sign code” may not be the best model for the entire C2 district.

During the public hearing, Canton resident Toby Irven asked the board to consider the potential for signs to get “out of control” near the new McDonald’s site.

“I guess my comment would be that we have a code in place, and if we have a code we should try to adhere to it,” he said.

Village Trustee Carol S. Pynchon said the village has been discussing general commercial zoning as part of its planned comprehensive code review this year. Discussions, she said, have also addressed potentially tasking the village planning board, rather than trustees, with variance decisions.

Covering about 4,300 square feet, with two drive-thru lanes and 30 parking spaces, the proposed McDonald’s was reviewed by the St. Lawrence County Planning Board in December 2019, and returned to developers with recommendations before being handed to the village. Before Canton’s downtown McDonald’s closed its doors in 2015, a similar site plan for the same 111 E. Main St. location was reviewed in December 2014, but the project did not move forward.

The former McDonald’s location, at 64 Main St., adjacent to the municipal building, closed on Dec. 31, 2015, after nearly 40 years of operation. The restaurant, which did not have drive-thru service, was one of hundreds of global locations determined to be under-performing by the corporation. The new McDonald’s could offer employment opportunities for dozens of community members.

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