McDonald's is back

Top: Annetta Rasmussen of Clinton picks up dinner for her family at the Dairy Queen in Clinton, the only fast food franchise outlet on South Whidbey. Assisting her are Michelle Casey, center, and owner Won Kim. Bottom: This property at Highway 525 and Kramer Road is being considered as a site for a McDonald
Top: Annetta Rasmussen of Clinton picks up dinner for her family at the Dairy Queen in Clinton, the only fast food franchise outlet on South Whidbey. Assisting her are Michelle Casey, center, and owner Won Kim. Bottom: This property at Highway 525 and Kramer Road is being considered as a site for a McDonald's restaurant and gas station. The site is currently rented by Wayne Morrison for his business, Blue Star Rockery.
— image credit: Gayle Saran

Residents who have a Big Mac Attack might be able to satisfy that urge on South Whidbey sooner rather than later. McDonald's is again eyeing Bayview as a site for its first South Whidbey restaurant.

If the company can meet permit requirements and can prove that it has access to adequate water and septic service, sooner may be the way McDonald's gets its first foothold on the island outside of Oak Harbor.

For months, the South Whidbey rumor mill has been in full swing, speculating about the possibility of McDonald's building at the intersection of Highway 525 and Kramer Road in Bayview. The rumor is true, a McDonald's official said this week.

David Lewy, construction project manager for McDonald's Northwest regional office in Bellevue, said the company is interested in Bayview.

"We've been looking at the Highway 525 corridor for some time, and are considering property at Kramer and Highway 525," he said.

The company first looked at the Bayview area as a possible restaurant site six years ago, but decided not to build. This time around, according to Lewy, McDonald's wants to build a 50-seat restaurant coupled with a gasoline island and pumps. He would not say which oil company the company is dealing with, nor would he say who the franchise owner would be.

According to the Island County Assessor's office, the owner of the two-acre site in which McDonald's is interested is Marilyn Gabelein of Clinton.

Serious rumors about McDonald's' renewed interest began in February when employees of G.N. Northern, a Kirkland civil engineering firm, were spotted by employees of Blue Star Rockery testing the soil at the Bayview site. Lewy said the firm was hired by McDonald's to test the soil for a septic system.

"According to the results, we are good to go," he said.

To date no plans or permits have been submitted to Island County. However, Lewy did contact Island County Planning Director Phil Bakke two weeks ago. Bakke said it was an informal, preliminary discussion.

"I let him know that a cookie cutter McDonald's would not work on South Whidbey, that any building would have to reflect the community, be rural in design," Bakke said. "He seemed very receptive and willing to work with the community."

He also said that he encouraged Lewy to convince McDonald's representatives to meet with South Whidbey residents as they plan their restaurant.

One of the groups interested in meeting with McDonald's representatives is Island County's Smart Growth Coalition. The organization includes representatives of local environmental groups and those interested in "sustainable development."

Marty Behr, a coalition member, said his group won't oppose McDonald's, but will have some suggestions for the company and Island County. He said the coalition wants to see Highway 525 designated as a state and federal scenic highway to guarantee that the rural character of Whidbey Island is maintained, no matter what sorts of businesses locate here.

"We don't want to be a thorn in the side of McDonald's, but would rather work with them," he said.

Island County's development regulations will be a factor in the appearance of any future McDonald's building. Bakke said the company is limited in its approach.

"Some of the specifics include the pitch of the roof, no blank walls, and signage and lighting regulations," he said.

Fast food restaurants in Island County may have a maximum of 100 square feet of signage, and building materials must blend with the the county's rural character.

That should be no problem for McDonald's, said Lewy. He said the company has worked with other communities on meeting design standards to fit in.

"We are very comfortable doing that," he said.

But even if the company successfully jumps through the county's design hoops, getting water for the restaurant could be a challenge. Vin Sherman, an environmental health specialist with the Island County Health Department, said the site is served by Bay Light, a small, unapproved water system owned by Verlane Gabelein. A larger, more elaborate system called Vist Aire is across the highway and can easily handle more commercial connections. "However, when there is one system in a service area, to bring another in requires approval by Island County commissioners. Bay Light is not approved for new connections at this time," Sherman said.

The only other water nearby is in a well that serves the Whidbey Telephone Company.

This is not the first foray McDonald's has made into South Whidbey. In 1996, the company nearly purchased the property near the Bayview Exxon Station across from Whidbey Tire and Auto Plaza. The company planned to build a 30-seat McDonald's and a Chevron Station. According to the real estate agent who brokered that purchase, Lanny Edgman of I-5 Realty in Lynnwood, the plan fell through because of high development costs. Edgman lives in Freeland.

At the moment, those who are most unhappy about the news are a few local businesspeople. Won Kim, owner of the Clinton Dairy Queen, is not happy to hear McDonald's may be moving on South Whidbey.

"If they come, my business will be hurt, definitely," she said. "McDonald's could take away half my customers."

Also worried is Wayne Morrison, who operates his landscaping materials business, Blue Star Rockery, on the acreage McDonald's wants to purchase.

Morrison said he hopes to find out soon whether McDonald's is purchasing the site. He is currently on a month-to-month rental agreement for his business site and is unsure when or if he will have to move. He has been promised space -- another property owned by Gabelein across the highway, but a move takes time.

"I am heading into my busiest season and I know I will have to go through a permitting process before I move to another site," he said.

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