Sugar Hill mulls McDonald's

SUGAR HILL — Building design ordinances are making a restaurant’s move within Sugar Hill challenging.

McDonald’s restaurant wishes next year to relocate from its outparcel in front of Publix supermarket at Ga. Highway 20 and Suwanee Dam Road to a comparable outparcel in front of the recently opened Kroger just a few hundred yards across Suwanee Dam. The challenge is, McDonald’s contemporary building design, somewhat regimented by its corporate brand standards, conflicts with Sugar Hill’s architectural standards.

Specifically, two issues were discussed at the Sugar Hill’s City Council’s monthly work session Monday night.

First, Sugar Hill requires buildings less than 10,000 square feet have gabled roofs, not the flat one McDonald’s proposes for its one-story, 3,910-square-foot building of brick and stone.

Second, the city prohibits signs above roof lines, and what McDonald’s calls a roof cap element — a yellow, broad, low-arching swoosh — extends at points above the roof line of the roughly 25-foot-high building.

Greg Chapman, an area construction manager for McDonald’s, explained to the council that such elements and their placement are registered trademarks and can’t be varied.

Also at issue is whether the swoosh meets the city’s criteria for signage, and therefore can’t exist above the roof line. Gwinnett’s fourth largest city defines signage as “any symbol ... or sculptured matter ... designed to identify.” McDonald’s, however, considers it a design element, not necessarily signage.

Trickier still is subjectively defining the degree of needed deviation from ordinances. Minor deviations from ordinances simply require administrative review and approval; major ones warrant variances, more formal requests that must be advertised publicly beforehand and open to public comment.

And should Sugar Hill and McDonald’s reach an impasse, Superior Court might be a future step.

Council members Monday expressed greatest concern over the roof. Mayor Gary Pirkle felt a variance, not informal administrative review, was warranted.

“I don’t have a problem with your design or want to change your design,” Pirkle told Chapman. “I just think you’d need to apply for a variance.”

Agreeing, Chapman said McDonald’s plans to present a proposal for variance by the week before Christmas. All agreed that will allow the required 15 days of public advertisement before the city’s Jan. 10 public meeting.

McDonald’s estimates construction of its new location will take 90 days.