LARGO — The McDonald's near the intersection of the Pinellas Trail and West Bay Drive looks like any other. Golden arches? Check. Posters alerting young children to the latest Happy Meal toys? Check. (Alvin and the Chipmunks, in case you're wondering.) Drive-through window? Check.
There is something unique about this McDonald's, built in 1993, though: It's the only restaurant with a drive-through window in the city's designated downtown development area.
Pharmacies and banks can have drive-through windows along West Bay Drive, but restaurant drive-throughs are forbidden. The McDonald's at 1250 West Bay Drive is grandfathered in since it was there before the rules were adopted in 2002.
The restaurant drive-through ban could change soon, however, if the City Commission follows through on a staff recommendation to allow them along West Bay Drive. Approval would be conditional — any restaurant wanting a drive-through would need to get an okay from city advisory boards. That allayed the concerns some commissioners had about the impact on downtown Largo.
"I would have a hard time with a drive-through in the downtown core there," Mayor Pat Gerard said at a commission meeting last month. "That's not what we want there. With a conditional use, though, we can approve it or deny it."
McDonald's is the reason for the change. The company wants to tear down its West Bay Drive restaurant and rebuild, according to Robert Klute, Largo's assistant community development director. Any new building along West Bay Drive would have to conform to city code, so McDonald's is barred from rebuilding its drive-through unless the city changes its rules and grants the restaurant approval.
Colleen Murray, city planning technician, explained to commissioners how the staff's vision for West Bay Drive has changed since the development rules were put in place in 2002.
"If a restaurant drive-through is well designed, does not take up a place between the building and the street where pedestrians should be given priority, and provides the appropriate buffers to nearby residences, there's no reason to prohibit them," Murray said.
Commissioners mostly agreed with Murray's assessment. While Gerard didn't like the idea of drive-throughs anywhere else on West Bay Drive except for the McDonald's, Commissioner Woody Brown said he'd be okay with other drive-throughs.
The drive-through amendment is scheduled to go before the Planning Board and Community Development Advisory Board this month. Klute said it will get back to the City Commission for a first reading on Jan. 17.
Will Hobson can be reached at (727) 445-4167 or firstname.lastname@example.org.