Louisville citizens demand better strip development

Planners and citizens in Louisville, Kentucky, are beginning to get businesses to replace aging suburban-style strip-commercial buildings with new buildings that better define the streets and public spaces. The latest example is the planned replacement of a 40-year-old McDonald’s restaurant on Bardstown Road in the Highlands neighborhood. The company wanted to erect its new prototype building, but the Bardstown Road Overlay District Committee — made up of area residents and businesspeople and a metro government planner — persuaded the company to put up a building with a more urban character instead.

The new McDonald’s, expected to open in December, will be 10 feet closer to the road than the old one. Its façade will extend much farther to the side (as a wing wall about 15 feet high), hiding part of the restaurant’s parking lot and a drive-through lane. Bob Keesaer, an architect with Louisville Metro Planning & Design, helped design the new 3,993 sq. ft. building, which will also have landscaping and outdoor tables.

The  wing wall helps overcome one of the urban design flaws of fast-food restaurants: their buildings are usually narrow, leaving large open spaces on both sides that create a choppy streetscape. In the design agreed upon for the new McDonald’s, “the city gets more of a street presence,” Keesaer says, and the restaurant gets a somewhat protected outdoor seating area.

The city earlier obtained similar concessions on a Taco Bell restaurant on Broadway downtown. Keesaer says that in these cases, the city usually asks the business to make the façade a bit taller than it would otherwise be — to help define the street space — and to extend the windows closer to the ground.