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Sugar Hill grants variance to design standards of McDonald's

SUGAR HILL — Despite previously sounding reluctant, the Sugar Hill City Council at its monthly meeting Thursday voted to grant a restaurant variance to the city’s architectural design standards and sign regulations.

In discussions at its December and January work sessions, the council didn’t seem enthused with the requests of McDonald’s, which was seeking to relocate from an 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 has been that McDonald’s contemporary building design, somewhat regimented by corporate brand standards, conflicted with Sugar Hill’s architectural standards.

The council voted Thursday to grant variance to its design standards and allow McDonald’s a flat roof, instead of a gabled one ordinances required for buildings of the fast-food restaurant’s size. As a condition, the council required that McDonald’s dress up with architectural elements the drive-through side of the building facing Ga. Highway 20. The council also granted variance to its sign regulations, allowing McDonald’s considerably more signage than is typical.

Key to granting that variance was the city and McDonald’s agreeing that long, low-arching, yellow swooshes on the sides of the building, whose square footage was considerable, were design elements instead of signage. Because McDonald’s agreed to screen with shrubbery its menu boards from adjacent lots and streets, the council also excluded those from the square footage calculation of signage. The restaurant’s trademark golden arches monument sign on Ga. 20, while larger than ordinance permits, was allowed because it was comparable to what the current McDonald’s location had.

Councilman Marc Cohen welcomed McDonald’s modern building influence into Gwinnett’s fourth-largest city and urged the council to grant both variances.

“The building itself looks great,” he said of the location McDonald’s estimates it needs three months to build. “I’d be proud to drive down (Ga.) 20 and see a building like this. I don’t want to (allow variance) that opens a floodgate, but the fact that this is the cutting edge of what McDonald’s is going to be, I’d like to be one the of the first (to have it).”

Greg Chapman, a McDonald’s area construction manager who addressed the council at its work sessions, was pleased with Thursday’s outcome. He said he had a positive sense throughout dialogue with the council and felt Sugar Hill “wanted to be a good neighbor.”

“I didn’t want the council to think we were turning a blind eye and a deaf ear to what they wanted,” he said.