A Panera Bread building, without all of the New England touches some Planning and Zoning Commissioners would like, appears to be headed for approval. The commission will deliberate and vote on the plan on Jan. 2.
The Panera Bread with a drive-thru would be built in Town Line Plaza at 205 Monroe Turnpike and the developer sees the nationally known restaurant as a catalyst to attract other tenants to the center, which was approved in 2018.
“I’d hate to miss out on this, because we want to do some tweaking,” Vice Chairman Michael O’Reilly said at Thursday’s meeting. “I would approve it as is.”
That seemed to be the prevailing sentiment among commissioners.
The mixed-use retail development is already approved for a Noble gas station and convenience store, medical office space and a restaurant. A modification is needed for Panera Bread replace the restaurant building in the plan, along with a special permit to allow the drive-thru.
A tug of war
Panera Bread’s designers agreed to go with a pitched roof design and Kevin Solli, the engineer for the applicant, said they would agree to change vertical siding to horizontal lap siding.
However, if the commission pushes for more changes to the building, Solli said the restaurant chain is willing to walk away.
“We told them we have to make this look as New England as we can and their designers said we have to keep this a Panera Bread,” Solli told the commission.
There has been a tug of war between town officials trying to ensure the building is not industrial looking and Panera Bread’s designers, who strive for brand awareness and consistency in their buildings.
Planning and Zoning Commission Chairman William Porter showed a slideshow of commercial buildings approved in Monroe like Union Savings Bank, Duchess, Goodwill and Monroe Diner to stress architectural features such as pitched roofs, cupolas and clapboard siding.
Porter wanted the Panera Bread building to have another angled component to make it less like a box.
The Architectural Review Board missed a meeting due to snow and, though it is only an advisory board, Porter gave Solli the option of going before the ARB one more time. But Solli said his client already received input from the board and he sees no reason to go back.
A preview board
The 3,245-square-foot Panera Bread building with a 480-square-foot patio would have 49 parking spaces and a drive-thru with a preview board and a menu board.
Solli said the preview board allows customers to see what the restaurant has to offer, before getting to the menu board and placing an order. He said McDonald’s already has one.
But Will Agresta, the planning and zoning administrator, said the McDonald’s preview board is illegal. Porter said Monroe’s zoning regulations do not include a mention of preview boards.
Because the regulations are silent on preview boards, Solli said he did not think it would be a problem to approve it. But Porter said the commission has waived requirements in the past and lost cases in court because of it.
Porter said the commission’s Regulations Subcommittee can work on an amendment to the regulations to allow preview boards. Then the commission can hold a public hearing and vote on it.
Solli expressed concern over a delay killing the deal between landlord and tenant. If the commission approves the application without the preview board, he said Panera Bread will pull out, because it wants to apply for a building permit with everything included.
Once the regulations are amended, Agresta said he could add the preview sign administratively in 10 minutes. But the landlord said Panera Bread wants it included in its lease.
The landlord said he could make it a condition of the lease, allowing Panera Bread to walk away if it is not included within 60 days. Because of Christmas and New Year’s, Porter asked if it could say 75 days.
Planning and Zoning Commission members appeared confident the preview board will not be a problem. A Regulations Subcommittee meeting was scheduled for 5:30 p.m. on Jan. 6 to discuss the issue.