Swap Parking for Green Space at the Golden Angel Site? The Horror!

Rendering of the garden that would replace several parking spaces. The proposed sidewalk is visible to the right.

The impending departure of the Golden Angel pancake house, 4344 North Lincoln in North Center, located kitty-corner from the Sulzer Library, where I often type up Streetsblog posts, is bitter-sweet for me. I’ll miss conversing with the chatty waitresses at this old-school greasy spoon while I tuck into a plate of their tasty chilaquiles.

The Golden Angel's Las Vegas-style sign. Photo: John Greenfield

On the other hand, I’m stoked to hear that the Golden Angel’s eyesore of a parking lot is slated to be partly replaced with a much more productive, attractive and environmentally friendly use. As DNAInfo’s Patty Wetli reported, Lou Malnati’s pizzeria plans to buy the building, as well as a couple of adjacent homes, which would be demolished to make room for an expansion of the restaurant.

As part of the project, Malnati’s wants to reduce the number of parking spaces from 13 to seven to make room for a garden area at the north end of the triangular property. This would give patrons a place to wait for tables during nice weather, and the restaurant may have an Italian ice cart during the summer. The greenery would replace asphalt with permeable surfaces, which would help alleviate the neighborhood’s flooding problems. The pizzeria is also planning to add seating for 50 to 60 people on the sidewalk on the west side of the building, next to Leavitt Street.

At a recent community meeting, homeowners on Leavitt raised a stink about the possibility of noise from the sidewalk café. That seems a little silly, since there are already four outdoor seating areas in the immediate vicinity of the diner. On the other hand, perhaps moving the café to the east side of the property, on the Lincoln business strip, would appease the neighbors.

Predictably, these folks were also upset about the parking conversion, arguing that more employees and restaurant patrons will park on side streets. “There goes all the parking on Leavitt,” one resident groused. 47th Ward rep Ernie Constantino invited them to apply for permit parking on their street.

The Golden Angel with a nearly empty parking lot at lunchtime. Photo: John Greenfield

But it seems like fears about a parking apocalypse are overblown in this very pedestrian-, bike- and transit-friendly location. The Golden Angel is located next to a major bike route, and Montrose Avenue bus stops. It’s also a short walk from the Western, Damen and Montrose Brown Line stops, and there’s a Divvy bike-share station across the street at the library. When I dropped by at lunchtime today, the parking lot was nearly empty.

I was cheered to see that the majority of commenters on the DNA article were in favor of the parking lot makeover and sidewalk café, and they argued that the NIMBYs are off base. “These people are crazy,” commented Shaun Jacobsen, author of the transportation blog Transitized. “They live at the intersection of two very busy streets with truck traffic and they’re concerned about noise from a restaurant? Please move to Naperville so those of us who love the liveliness of a city and its outdoor spaces can enjoy it.”

  • Eli N

    “bus stops for the Lincoln and Montrose Avenue routes”

    The number 11 Lincoln bus route no longer extends to this part of Lincoln; it was one of the more controversial service cuts last year.

  • Seems I get crabby before my first cup of coffee. Across the street there are already at least 2 bars/lounges/eating establishments and I fail to see how adding another one will make the neighborhood any noisier.

    Down my street there used to be this great restaurant and it had an outdoor patio – which played music – directly adjacent to someone’s house on Dover St. If you live near a busier street with businesses, you have to be prepared for the area to change. Otherwise, shop around for a house or apartment a little more “embedded” in a residential street, not near a major street. The guy’s a little nuts. He said he “would measure the noise” with a decibel meter.

  • Oh I forgot to write what I really wanted to bring up, which is that someone did raise a point saying that too many sidewalk patios are encroaching on the pedestrian right-of-way. I agree with that. In Andersonville a fair amount of restaurants’ tables are on the sidewalk a bit too much for the comfort and convenience of pedestrians (and likely wheelchair users, although I’ve yet to see how well that works). I could see the same problem happening in a place like North Center.

    On smaller streets, the parking should go before the narrow sidewalk does. If that’s really a concern on Leavitt it should be addressed.

  • Good catch, thanks. I’ll edit that. I believe there’s still a bus shelter at the NW corner of Lincoln and Montrose, on the Lincoln side.

  • Peter

    Who doesn’t like Lou’s? Shame on them NIMBY’s. You could park a divvy station outside of my building, eliminate the left turn out of my street, and change the format of my CTA card if I could have a a Lou’s with a patio on the corner of my block :-)

  • Best comment of the day. Can we put a protected bike lane on your street as well?

  • Anonymous

    Yes, there is. They leave it there to rub it in that the 11 is gone :(

  • matt

    Agreed. If you want your street to be quiet, you should move to a quiet street. You can’t really have that expectation on a major street. My guess is that this project will probably increase land values too.

  • Edgewater Roadie

    They should cul-de-sac Leavitt Street there to tighten up the Lincoln/Montrose intersection and add more greenspace.

  • Fred

    If they community is so concerned about the Leavitt sidewalk, then I hope the solution is to move the outdoor dining area to where the 4 parking spaces against the building are. You could even leave them marked as parking spaces so they could still be used in that capacity during the non-alfresco months. Leave only 3 spaces, and make those 5min parking for carry out orders only.

  • Adam Herstein

    At a recent community meeting, homeowners on Leavitt raised a stink about the possibility of noise from the sidewalk café.

    If these people don’t like noise, then why the hell do they live in the city? Do they understand that sharing space with other people is one of the fundamental components of city life? Perhaps they’d be happier in a quieter suburb, or in a house on the prairie?

  • Anonymous

    I’d like that idea, as long as there are accomodations made for bicyclists to continue northbound on Leavitt. Today it’s my favorite northbound route from Wicker Park to Edgewater.

  • Adam Herstein

    I agree completely. While sidewalk cafés are nice for diners, they take up valuable public sidewalk space for a private use. This effect is exacerbated in areas with already narrow sidewalks, such as most of Clark St through Lincoln Park and Andersonville. The kosher restaurant in my neighborhood even built a sukkah on the sidewalk!

  • There’s already a cul-de-sac on Leavitt north of Montrose.

  • Anne A

    Seems like the sidewalk cafe craze has gone a bit overboard. It would be nice if there were reasonable limits on how much of the walkable sidewalk width could be blocked by cafe space. Less than half would be good. Yep, I’m tired of ped traffic jams around overly large sidewalk cafe spaces. Seeing too many places where the cafe occupies as much as 2/3 of sidewalk width.

  • Anonymous

    Oh okay, so it’s okay for you to complain that sidewalk cafes might be encroaching on walkway space, but private property owners who complain that sidewalk cafes might be encroaching on their homes are jerks who should move out. Got it.

  • I think the ordinances in question specify a minimum remaining sidewalk width — so regardless of the width occupied by the cafe part, at least X feet (I think it’s 6 or 7? Possibly too narrow) must remain as unobstructed public walkway.

  • Chicagio

    The “noise in the city” argument is pretty ridiculous. If anyone ever has access to a sound meter i suggest walking around the city with one for a little bit. (There’s actually an sound meter app, though i have no idea how accurate it is.) I was involved with a build-out for a new dry cleaners where they had large washing machines, boilers, exhaust fans, the whole 9 yards. After about a month of operation the neighbor was complaining about excessive noise. So we tracked a sound meter down and took measurements surrounding the property and inside. Basically, what we found is that even with a psuedo-industrial operation like a dry cleaner, street noise (i.e. cars and buses) caused nearly all the measurable noise.
    That’s not to say that you couldn’t open your window and hear people using the patio but compared to the overall volume level of a car going by, human voices are nothing. I kind of wish someone would do a rigorous study of sound sources on city streets to try to remove the restrictions on how long a beer garden can stay open. Summer in Chicago is short and sweet, I shouldn’t have to go inside at 10 because of supposed noise concerns.

  • Anonymous

    very excited about the new addition to our hood. the existing Lou’s wont deliver west of western so we seldom get it. Now my wife will be happy.

  • Chicagio

    The minimum allowable width for accessibility is 60″. This allows two wheelchairs to pass. I agree with you that sidewalk cafes sometimes encroach on this and they shouldn’t. However, if too many sidewalk cafes is our most pressing urban design problem, i’ll take that. (I’m not belittling the issue, I just would rather have too many cafes than too few.)

  • Adam Herstein

    Or how about – gasp! – we use a couple parking spots instead?

  • Adam Herstein

    In this case, the sidewalk café will not be taking space away from people walking. And they are complaining about the noise, not the space. Different issue.

  • Glad you’ll be getting a pizza the action.

  • Anonymous

    That sure is convenient logic you employ. By this rationale, the only way these homeowners would have a valid criticism is if Lou Malnati’s placed their pizza oven in these peoples’ front yard. Otherwise they should shut up and move to a farm, because complaining about noise and double-parked cars is not legitimate, that’s just people being jerks. Gotcha.

  • Anonymous

    Adam, look, I’m on most peoples’ side here, including yours. I live in the area and I think this looks pretty cool and will improve the neighborhood quite a bit. But all these people are doing is voicing perfectly reasonable concerns at a community meeting (ok, the guy with the sound meter is a little over-the-top, but whatever, so are some of the critics). It’s awfully ironic that you leap to criticize them and do it in an obnoxious fashion by saying they should move to a farm, then in the next breath you bitch about the same cafes disturbing the sidewalks. Pot, meet kettle.

  • Kevin M

    Trolling chi.streetsblog again, leadhead1? Or, do you claim to live on the block of Leavitt across from the Golden Angel as well as on Ashland?

  • Adam Herstein

    Taking space away from everyone for use as a café vs. a few people complaining about noise. Cities are noisy – that’s just part of living in a large urban area. Cities also are walkable – that’s what draws many people to live in the city vs. having to drive everywhere in the suburbs. Sidewalk cafés arguably take away from that walkability that makes cities great places to live.

  • Hey, let’s try to keep the tone civil folks. If you need a refresher, here’s the Streetsblog comment policy: http://chi.streetsblog.org/about/comment-moderation-policy/

  • Adam Herstein

    Again, the issue with sidewalk cafés are that they take valuable walking space away from everyone. The homeowners are complaining about noise. They are two different issues.

    I believe that complaining about people talking outside your window while living in a dense urban environment is silly, because you can’t really have it both ways. Either you live in the city and deal with the noise, or you live in a less dense area, such as the suburbs or country, and have piece and quiet. Cities are just inherently noisy.

  • Anonymous

    I have no response.

  • Anonymous

    Ah yes, anyone who disagrees with a comment is a “troll”…

  • Adam Herstein

    Badum- TCHH.

  • Anonymous

    Adam, I find it amusing that you take the tone that you get to set the rules about what’s okay to complain about and what isn’t. I could just as easily say that sidewalk cafes are what draw people to the city and make it great, and that a slightly narrow 20 foot stretch of sidewalk is just part of living in a large urban area.

  • Adam Herstein

    Agreed. The jerks honking their cars outside my window are far noisier than any drunks wandering about. (I live near Wrigley and Boystown, so there are plenty of them). And yet, I accept noise as part of living in the city. Having decent windows helps, too.

  • Anonymous

    I don’t think anyone disagrees that Lou’s is an improvement over whatever there is today, nor that turning part of the parking lot into greenspace is an improvement.

    The issue I see is with the sidewalk cafe on the east side of Leavitt. This really moves the source of noise significantly south from it’s current position, outside Tiny Lounge and the new fake Irish pub going up.

    Dismissing the resident’s concerns as NIMBYism is something Streetsblog and its commenters do too easily

  • Adam Herstein

    Why is it fair that someone driving a car gets 16 feet of space, while I am confined to a narrow four feet of space, trying to squeeze around people walking the other direction, signposts, benches, etc.? Many areas of the city have sidewalks that are far too narrow for the amount of foot traffic they get. My argument is that taking that sidewalk space away from people, while leaving the too-wide roadway alone is detrimental to the walkability of the neighborhood.

  • Anonymous

    Oh my god the heartache of you having to turn slightly sideways, or you and your friends walking single-file while passing by someone on the sidewalk to make room! So that other people can enjoy the city and have a nice meal outside! Who’s planning the march toward city hall to stop this injustice?!

    Adam, come on, this is silly…you see that, right?

    The “fairness” as it relates to cars is irrelevant for this matter, but since you’re bringing it up, the city HAS taken parking spaces away from cars with those on-street sitting areas (the name escapes me at the moment).

  • Adam Herstein

    They’re called People Spots or parklets, and I am in favor of putting in more of them.

    Why is it okay for people to complain about losing space for cars, but not for me to complain about losing space for people?

  • Anonymous

    I like People Spots too and look forward to more of them. The displaced cars can suck it up because these things provide great bang-for-the-buck when it comes to making the city more pleasant and livable. (See StreetsBlog community, I am not just an unreasonable pro-car guy!)

    And I like Lou Malnati’s and this plan looks like a great improvement over the Golden Angel (sorry, Golden Angel). The displaced sidewalkers can suck it up for the same reason above…as can the neighbors assuming this plan is reasonable, which it appears to be.

    I’ll drop the back-and-forth but I guess my point is, if you’re going to make the contradictory arguments, at least cool it with the “My way or GTFO” attitude.

  • Adam Herstein

    I was just pointing out the silliness of complaining about noise in the city.

    From what I understand, the café in front of the Lou Malnati’s will be taking up car parking spaces, and not sidewalk, so I am okay with that.

  • That part won’t be a cafe, just a garden with some benches and maybe an Italian Ice cart. There must be some reason they can’t put restaurant seating in the parking lot, perhaps something to do with how outdoor seating permits are issued, or logistical issues with servers being able to access tables without having to walk around parked cars.