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Kitimat Council green lights removal of trees on McDonald’s lot

Small stand of alters block view of sign from highway
Illustration shows the future location of the restaurant sign situated behind the stand of alder trees to be removed.

Kitimat Council has given the green light for the McDonald’s restaurant developer to cut down a small stand of alder trees blocking the view of their future signage.

The decision comes amid heated community debate and concerns about the impact on community aesthetics and what many see as the needless waste of trees.

The small stand of alders is located on 20-square metres of land at the eastern edge of Hwy37, next to the Kitimat Visitors Centre. In a letter to council the restaurant developer said the trees have grown into the highway right‐of‐way and will block drivers’ line‐of‐sight from the north.

The developer said the restaurant is hesitant to build the $150,000 sign pylon as currently approved if the sight-line can’t be improved.

“McDonald’s can only justify the expense if they get visibility from the north which will allow inbound highway traffic to make a decision and safely brake to negotiate the left‐hand turn from the highway into the site,” wrote Bruce Abugov of Abugov-Kaspar Architecture.

Addressing council, Kitimat resident Matt Desouza questioned whether a McDonald’s sign was the best first impression for visitors entering Kitimat. On this and several other points raised by the community on social media, he asked council to consider public opinion.

Kitimat comedian Danny Nunes also weighed into the debate with a breaking-news video parody on Facebook, addressing council dressed as the famous McDonald’s mascot.

“I need you to approve my big golden arches sign,” he said. “I don’t care how many trees you have to chop down — you will chop them down, because I am Ronald fricken McDonald and I get what I McWant.”

Most posts were otherwise restrained, and evenly split on the issue. “That fringe of trees … will mostly remain, only a few that are closer to the highway [will be cut down],” wrote a Facebook user. “Seems ridiculous to me it’s causing so much excitement.”

Council also received an unusually high volume of letters from residents, all opposing the request.

“Having a McDonald’s sign in your face as you enter our community is gross. It’s just a massive sign that says ‘we care more about money then the beauty of own hometown,’” reads one letter.

Another reads, in part, “Kitimat is a garden city. We do not need to cut down trees to know the new McDonald’s will be up there. The trees can’t move without dying. Why not find a new place to put a sign to draw attention instead of cutting down trees?”

The developer argues the tight space of the lot, and the Ministry of Transportation’s mandate that signage remain at least five metres from the highway excludes the option of moving the sign to another spot on the property.

Speaking to council, Kitimat Chamber of Commerce executive director Laurel D’Andrea supported the application.

“We have no issue with the tree removal requested in this application,” she said. “We all know that signage is important to any new business coming to town and we shouldn’t be penalizing a business requesting their signage have proper visibility just because their a franchise or a larger business.”

She added the high visibility of the sign will also act as a way finder, drawing in traffic to other nearby businesses.

The removal of the trees will also provide a proper view of a flag stand installed in 2003, but which the trees after two decades of growth now block from public view on some angles.

Responding to the community’s contention over the issue, councilor Graham Pitzel suggested the developer contribute $5,000 to the town’s horticulture department in exchange for the landscaping approval. Councillor Gerry Leibel agreed with that proposal, citing a broader trend in tree removal from municipal spaces.

“We do need to make it more difficult for developers to chop down trees. We may be surrounded by 10-million of them, but the trees that we really value are the ones we see in town.

“I think it’s time we start putting a price to our natural environment.”

Requiring any compensation from the developer was shot down in a vote, on the grounds the number of trees lost will be negligible, and the long-term tax gain from the restaurant will more than compensate for the loss.

On approving the request, council stipulated all costs of clearing the trees will be covered by the developer.

About the Author: Quinn Bender

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