Arby's rebuild in Meadville receives variance | News | meadvilletribune.com – Meadville Tribune

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Updated: December 10, 2022 @ 4:43 am
The Meadville Arby’s will be getting a new look as it will be remodeled.
Josh Long of CESO, the engineering firm managing a planned redevelopment of the Meadville Arby’s location, requested a variance for the project during a Meadville Zoning Hearing Board hearing Thursday.
The Meadville Zoning Hearing Board approved a variance Thursday that will allow a planned reconstruction of the Meadville Arby’s location to go forward despite the redesigned restaurant falling more than 40 percent short of the number of parking spaces called for by the city’s zoning ordinance.

The Meadville Arby’s will be getting a new look as it will be remodeled.
Josh Long of CESO, the engineering firm managing a planned redevelopment of the Meadville Arby’s location, requested a variance for the project during a Meadville Zoning Hearing Board hearing Thursday.
The Meadville Zoning Hearing Board approved a variance Thursday that will allow a planned reconstruction of the Meadville Arby’s location to go forward despite the redesigned restaurant falling more than 40 percent short of the number of parking spaces called for by the city’s zoning ordinance.
Plans are in the works to tear down and rebuild the Meadville Arby’s location.
While Arby’s “has the meats,” according to its ads, The Meadville Tribune has the “deets.”
Details of the replacement plan and the motivations behind it were discussed Thursday during the Meadville Zoning Hearing Board’s consideration of a variance request from Arby’s Restaurant Group Inc. Board members voted 3-0 to permit redevelopment of the property at 1151 Park Ave. with fewer parking spaces than are required under the city’s Zoning Ordinance. The decision can still be appealed in Crawford County Court of Common Pleas within the next 30 days.
The project will relocate the new structure within the existing lot, adding a double-lane drive-thru with increased capacity in hopes of preventing long lines that obstruct traffic on Park Avenue.
And thanks to the enthusiastic support of area residents, the rebuild will retain the existing vintage Arby’s sign, which will be repositioned and refurbished as part of the project, according to Josh Long of Dayton, Ohio-based CESO, the engineering firm managing the project.
“The sign will remain,” Long said, recalling weekly calls with Arby’s corporate officials regarding the project, which has been in development since prior to the COVID-19 pandemic. “A lot of feedback from the town was ‘Keep the sign, keep the sign,’ and one of the more senior members on the call goes, ‘It’s pretty amazing that a town takes pride in a sign of ours. We should really take that into account.’ From then on, they put together a plan.”
A July 2021 social media post by a manager at the restaurant asking for likes and comments to demonstrate the community’s interest in keeping the sign drew more than 2,600 positive reactions and more than 1,500 comments, the overwhelming majority calling on Arby’s to preserve the sign.
Sign preservation plans call for the enormous cowboy hat logo featuring neon and incandescent lights, many of which haven’t worked in years, to be moved slightly so that it will be protected by a curved island, according to Long.
Assistant City Manager Gary Johnson, the city’s zoning officer, said previous discussions of the rebuild have included plans to replace the present lights with LEDs.
But the future of the sign, while a top-of-the-menu priority for many fans in the area, was unrelated to the issue before the Zoning Hearing Board on Thursday. Instead, the question confronting board members was whether to allow the project to go forward with 41 percent fewer parking spaces than are required under the city’s zoning ordinance. Instead of 31 spaces, the project proposed 22. Two of the spaces will be accessible and no more than seven will be used at any given time by employees, according to Long.
Though the new building would be slightly smaller in size than the present building due to a downsized dining area, the area available for parking would be reduced due to the space needed for a double-laned drive-thru capable of accommodating at least 11 vehicles, according to Long.
The expanded drive-thru with two ordering points and one pickup window would improve safety along Park Avenue by reducing the likelihood of vehicle lines backing up onto the roadway, Long told the board. It would also likely improve business by allowing more drive-thru customers to move through the line more efficiently.
But the primary motivation for the change, Long said, was “due to the change in customer behavior.” Increasing numbers of customers are using the drive-thru rather than parking and then entering the restaurant, he told the board.
The board was immediately receptive to the idea of improved safety along the Park Avenue business corridor. Board member John Battaglia said he encountered backups resulting from the current drive-thru layout almost every weekday. At the same time, he added, the parking lot “is almost always empty.”
But while improved safety and a new restaurant were enticing, the board’s approval of the variance was by no means guaranteed, in part due to the absence of board members and alternates. With Chair Robert Humphries and member Lyle Mook absent, only three of the board’s five members were present for the hearing. None of the three alternates were present. Board member Andy Baccallao, serving as acting chair, noted that approving the variance request would require three votes in favor — a 2-1 vote would have meant the variance was rejected.
Approval of the variance was also dependent on Arby’s — through Long, the only member of the redevelopment project who attended the hearing — demonstrating an unnecessary hardship that prevented it from meeting the parking space requirement. To qualify, Arby’s had to show that “the unique physical circumstances or conditions” of the property — not the general requirements of the zoning ordinance — created the hardship.
“We’ve done what we feel is everything we can to maximize the parking without changing the current access points, which are pretty much at the best possible spot they can be,” Long said.
Battaglia’s initial reaction was skeptical.
“I don’t feel you have a hardship,” he said. Rather than a variance, other options were available, Battaglia continued: A smaller dining area could create additional room or the restaurant chain could do what “every other developer in town” does in such a situation — acquire more property for parking.
“What I see is that you see a hardship because it’s going to cost you more money,” Battaglia said, “and that’s something we don’t consider.”
Long told the board that he suspected Arby’s would not seek to acquire additional property if the variance was rejected.
“It would probably be a project killer,” he added.
Moments later, the three board members present voted unanimously to approve the variance.
Asked about the timeline for the project, Long said that uncertainty regarding the availability of construction supplies and laborers make a completion date hard to predict.
“They’re yelling at me to go faster,” he said regarding Arby’s officials. “They want it to be completed by the end of the year.”
Mike Crowley can be reached at (814) 724-6370 or by email at mcrowley@meadvilletribune.com.

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