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Site design 📐 Best or alternative designs for national chains


"Corporate requires us to build it to look like that."

I think this is a phrase most of us have heard in our careers. Most of us also realize that what they are stating is just not true. A few years ago, a national pizza place came in and said that to me, to which I replied that what they were proposing did not meet our standards. They responded with "If McDonald's came in, would you require them to do that." While it is an older example, I simply went to google maps and showed them this location in Freeport Maine:


I also explained the story behind it. My advisor in undergrad told us all about it, the legal challenges, and how in the end, McDonalds used this as an example of being a good partner with the community.

But this is not the only example of alternative design. A few years ago, I was told about this auto-repair shop in Davidson NC.

The back side looks like this:
woodys 2.jpg

I know of a couple other communities that now require any uses that have a drive-though or garage door intended for vehicle use to be built to look like a two story building, and those elements (garage doors, drive through windows, menu boards, and such) cannot be located on any building side that faces a public street.

What great examples of great or alternative design do you know of? (Please share photos and/or google street view links). Especially buildings that contain chain restaurants that are either advanced version of their corporate models or substantial departure from their model.

What great examples of regulations do you know of that would increase the quality of design for businesses.
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We had a McDonald's in the 1824 Frontier House in Lewiston, New York. It was the best hotel west of Albany when it opened. It was a McDonalds from the late 1970s until 2004. It was recently purchased by a developer who is restoring it to lodging purposes.



Staff member
In my previous job, I played this game a lot. BW3 and Chipotle both agreed to unique signage, but were not going to stray from their "standard" building design. We had some luck with gas stations making them look more reasonable.

I think design standards that make everything look the same are also a problem. Unique design and the ability of people to know where they are going is important. In communities where you have a clear design aesthetic I get fighting for something more in line with that style, but in most suburbs it just seems pointless. Making a McDonald's look like a brick building only makes sense if other buildings in the area are brick. If they are all EIFS and crap, why would McDonald's be different?

There are corporate standards and the question will always be - how bad do they want to be there? Unless the answer is REALLY BADLY, I feel like you are not going to win the overall war.

With that said, I am extremely interested to see if there are examples of communities winning those battles. Personally, I am more interested in the backstory, to understand how they convinced them to do it.


There are corporate standards and the question will always be - how bad do they want to be there? Unless the answer is REALLY BADLY, I feel like you are not going to win the overall war.

Exactly. There is the general tradeoff of how badly that business wants to be there, and therefore how willing they are to appease the jurisdiction, and how badly the jurisdiction wants them there, and therefore how willing they are to push.

We have done a pretty good job of trying to get context sensitive deviations in a corporate prototypical design, but we try to work within reason. I do remember when we got our In-N-Out - they were willing to work with me to get detailing and some site design elements that would work best, but told me straight up they if I asked for a Westlake Village store, it wasn't going to happen:


Dear Leader
Staff member
I'll post more in a bit, but first, a relevant newspaper article. Emphasis mine.

Cities don't have to settle for ugly dollar stores

Beth Kassab
April 24, 2013

The latest suburban scourge is worse than noisy neighbors, poorly-timed streetlights or rush-hour road construction.

Dollar stores are spreading like kudzu across Central Florida. Family Dollar. Dollar General. Dollar Tree.

They're strangling the landscape with ugly, big box frames and in-your-face signs.

At least you can call the cops on noisy neighbors and adjust the timing on streetlights. And construction is temporary. Dollar stores, though, are permanent. Land gets paved. An unattractive building is thrown up. And there, for all time or at least the next 30 years, sits the unimpressive shell of a dollar store.

Some cities are fighting back.

And this is where, for once, we must give credit to the bureaucrats who drone on about setbacks, cupolas and facades.

The recession-era dollar-store boom is evidence of what a strict set of design standards — and public servants who double as shrewd negotiators — can do for a city.

Because the dollar stores are, as their names imply, cheap. They will build the equivalent of an over-sized storage unit on a lot, put a sign out front and call it a retail store — if you let them.

"Their standard is a metal building with nothing else on top of it," said Alison Stettner, development services director for Orange City in Volusia County.

But cities get better results when officials see each building as a piece of the puzzle, each new storefront as the potential to add value rather than continue to uglify commercial districts.

That's why in Orange City a new Dollar General looks more like a quaint country general store than a big box with automatic doors. The Dollar General has dormer windows, a front porch and, near the sidewalk along busy U.S. Highway 17-92, covered benches for pedestrians and a bike rack for cyclists. The developer even agreed to put faux plantation shutters on the back of the building for the sake of the neighbors.

Compare that to a Family Dollar store built last year in the Fern Park area along U.S. 17-92.

Much of unincorporated Seminole County is an architectural wasteland because there aren't any design standards.

The store near Fern Park is metal on all sides except the front, which is partially covered in a stone-like material. So much for a chance to bring a little style and inspire the neighbors along a dated stretch of road desperately in need of some design love.

The same style Family Dollar was built in nearby Casselberry, but at least the city made the developer stucco it on three sides and add some faux window shutters.

In Ocoee, a proposed Dollar General has neighbors so upset they're suing the city. And the design isn't even as distasteful as it could be.

Ocoee has special design requirements that won't allow a bare-bones style. The plan calls for an upgraded design, though still boxy and windowless. (Check out photos of all of these stores at OrlandoSentinel.com/bethkassabblog.)

All of this matters because so many of these stores are being built — Family Dollar is planning 500 nationwide this year, Dollar General expects 635, and Dollar Tree plans 200. They have the potential to keep making a big effect on the scenery, especially in the suburbs.

But while the stores are after a thrifty clientele, they're willing to spend extra money to make their buildings look better — if they don't have a choice. (An estimated $200,000 extra in the case of the Orange City store.)

Which proves an important point: Towns don't have to settle for ugly — developers will do what they have to if there's a buck to be made.