Request for bar starts parking fight on Route 14

Residents in Crystal Lake neighborhood oppose zero spaces variance

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CRYSTAL LAKE – The possibility of a new bar in the Virginia Street corridor is the last straw for some residents fed up with the lack of parking along Route 14.

Neighbors near the Jaster Building at 414 W. Virginia St. are opposing a request to reduce the amount of required parking spaces to make room for the bar.

“There are a handful of businesses in that area of the city with parking variances,” said Michelle Rentzsch, director of Crystal Lake planning and economic development. “It’s a balancing act down there with the businesses when it comes to parking.”

The building at the northwest corner of Pomeroy Avenue and Virginia Street currently houses two apartments, Chez Pierre’s Creperie and a vacant storefront.

The petitioner, identified in city documents as AKMG, LLC, with the signature of Adam Harjung, 8520 Voce Court, Cary, wants to open a wine and cheese bar in the storefront and take over the restaurant, which would be renamed Sweet Melissa’s, according to the documents.

The request asks for no designated parking spaces instead of eight required under the city’s Unified Development Ordinance. The Planning and Zoning Commission will further discuss the request Wednesday.

John Valus owns an apartment building at 234 Pomeroy Ave., near the Jaster Building. His parking lot accommodates his tenants and has room for a few guests. Valus said he worries that if a variance is granted for the bar, customers would illegally park in his lot, which has happened before.

“I’m not against small business, but it’s already overcrowded,” Valus said. “There’s already a problem with parking, and if you bring in this new business going for a zero parking space variance, where are these cars going to go?”

John Amrein has lived behind 394 W. Virginia St. for more than eight years. His home on Oriole Trail is behind what now is The London Pub & Grill.

“The city makes a mistake when it doesn’t require adequate parking because those extra cars go on residential streets,” Amrein said. “We have cars all over the place and it has been a hassle. We are all concerned about the parking pressure businesses put on the whole area.”

The objections come on the heels of the multimillion-dollar corridor improvement project completed last year. The project put in new sidewalks and decorative crosswalks and improved Virginia Street as part of the Illinois Department of Transportation’s Route 14 resurfacing work.

The improvements also took away some parking spots in that area, Rentzsch said.

“Based on feedback from businesses, the top priorities were lighting, aesthetics, landscaping and parking,” she said. “The spots were taken away for pedestrian safety reasons and to allow cars the ability to park more easily.”

The area also is part of a tax-increment financing district, which allows municipalities to borrow money or issue bonds for anticipated development by capping property tax revenues at the pre-TIF equalized assessed valuation level.

As those TIF funds become available, the city will look at improving parking, Rentzsch said.

“Parking would be the next thing that would be addressed,” she said. “We have to find creative, cost-effective ways to address the issue because it’s very expensive.”

Available parking over the years has been up and down, said Bob Dunham, owner of Vogue Cleaners at 410 W. Virginia St. since 1978.

“Things are slower for the businesses in the area because of the economy, so in general, parking hasn’t been that bad for us,” Dunham said. “The [road] improvements took away some of the parking in the front, and that has made it a little more difficult.”

For the Jaster Building, the petitioner also is investigating the possibility of borrowing spaces from the nearby Taco Bell, as well as Vogue Cleaners. Similar sharing takes place between other businesses in that area.

Andy’s Restaurant also created a private parking lot at the intersection of Virginia Street and Dole Avenue to help with parking at the restaurant.

The wine and cheese bar would be open until 1 a.m. on weekdays, and 2 a.m. on weekends if approved. The business would have to be approved by the City Council after planning and zoning.

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