Proposed Taco Bell/KFC building causes controversy

When does a Taco Bell not look like a Taco Bell? When it’s in Williamstown, apparently.

In response to concerns expressed by local residents and the Williamstown Sign Commission, Tacala North, Inc., the corporation planning to open a Taco Bell/Kentucky Fried Chicken (KFC) on the Route 2 site formerly occupied by Burger King, has agreed to consider a departure from the restaurant’s usual bright color scheme.

Tacala North, which also plans to open Taco Bell/KFC franchises in Great Barrington and Lee, Massachusetts, has already been given permission by the Williamstown Planning Board to tear down the old Burger King building.

But the Planning Board, concerned with what Sign Commission secretary Gordon Squire termed “some very garish colors, bright shades of orange and yellow,” referred the building plans to the Sign Commission for review. Commission chairman Bill Lyon explained the unusual move by pointing out that, because the proposed Taco Bell/KFC is outfitted in such loud lights and colors, “the Planning Board considered the whole business to be a sign.”

Squire recently visited the Taco Bell/KFC in Bennington, Vt., which is also owned by Tacala North, to get an idea of what Williamstown might expect. He concluded that the Bennington site contains a number of “objectionable features.”

In addition to the illuminated drive-through menu board, exterior floodlighting, and a large photo of Colonel Sanders, Squire took issue with the “plastic wedge-shaped devices with purple fluorescent lights behind them that were meant to be awnings.” He added, “It really looked like Los Angeles.”

Naif Malcol, a representative of Tacala North, appeared at a Sign Commission earlier this month to field questions and hear the Commission’s proposed alterations to the building plan. Lyon said that the Commission’s chief request was that “they do it in a more muted color.”

In response to Squire’s concerns about the Vermont facility, Malcol pointed out that while the Bennington Taco Bell/KFC is a renovation of an old Papa Gino’s pizza restaurant, the Williamstown version will be a new, and therefore higher quality, facility.

“We’ll be into that building for $1.2 to $2.3 million,” he said at the meeting. “It will be a brand-new building and should be a credit to the community.”

He added that the portion of the menu board causing the most concern for commission members – it includes bright illustrations of menu items – would not be visible from the street. The sign would be near the rear of the building.

But the town’s antipathy for the plan seems to extend to appearance of the building as a whole. One town member referred to it as a “floating illuminated castle.”

To counter, Malcol showed the commission photos of a Taco Bell/KFC restaurant in Malta, NY that has no awnings, virtually no illuminated areas and a green roof.

Squire called the building “much more attractive, more toned down, [more] in keeping with what would look nice on Main Street.”

No date has been set for the construction of the Taco Bell/KFC.

According to Squire, the timing depends not only the speed with which Tacala is able to meet the Sign Commission’s standards, but also on the progress of the Great Barrington and Lee sites, which have also been hindered in the planning stages.