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French planning row over ugly McDonald’s ‘site cabin’ extension

A petition to demolish the building, likened to a ‘wart’ on top of a listed property in western France, has been signed by thousands of people

Villa Mirasol before and after

Villa Mirasol as it looked before the controversial rooftop extension and after the work Pic: Llann Wé CC BY-SA 3.0 / Apropo

Pressure to remove a rooftop extension that “disfigures” a listed 1914 villa in a seaside town in western France is mounting after a petition was signed by 10,000 people within days of it being launched online.

Work to lower the extension by 40cm and move it back 40cm so it conforms exactly to the original planning permission could happen this winter – but organisers of the petition say it will still be visible from the street and want it demolished completely.

Read more: Make sense of local rules governing planning permission around France

The original plans for the building, called Villa Mirasol in Les Sables-d’Olonne, Vendée, were fully approved by architects charged with protecting historic monuments, but people were shocked when scaffolding shielding the work was removed.

Historic monument to corporate office

Villa Mirasol was listed as a historic monument in the early 1970s. It is now a corporate office for the McDonald’s hamburger chain, which has spent a fortune refurbishing it– cleaning the stone walls as well as creating the rooftop extension to house a conference centre.

Local heritage association Apropo has organised the petition for its removal. The document says: “When the scaffolding was taken down, people thought the builders had left a site cabin on the roof – but no, it was the extension.

‘Ugly wart’

“By its siting, its volume, its height, the way it dominates the terrace, its absence of any architectural quality and its highly visible nature, this structure forms an ugly wart which totally disfigures the historic building. Just reducing the size of the building to the original specifications in the planning agreement will change nothing. It will remain very visible.”

Among those who spoke out originally was the mayor, Yannick Moreau, who said: “It does not correspond with the vision for the city which we shared with the owners.”

He echoed that the extension was like “a wart” and said he did not understand how it had got through planning, especially after all the good work McDonald’s has done on the villa.

A check by regional architects as a result of the row found that a structural weakness in the roof, discovered during building, led to the extension being 40cm closer to the edge of the roof than had been agreed. Why it ended up 40cm higher is unknown.

Demolition order

In theory, departmental planners could order the extension to be demolished because it does not conform to original plans, but it is more common for authorities to try to reach an agreement with the owners. 

Demolition orders can be appealed against in the courts and cases can take years to be resolved.

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