NORTH CENTER — Representatives from Lou Malnati's met with North Center residents Monday night to discuss a proposed zoning change needed for a liquor license, but all neighbors wanted to talk about was the restaurant's plan for a sidewalk cafe.
"Is this the part where we get the torches and pitchforks out?" asked Blake Smith as the floor was opened up for questions.
In August, Malnati's announced its intention to open an outpost in the triangle space occupied by the Golden Angel, 4344 N. Lincoln Ave., which is closing because its owner is retiring.
While about 20 neighbors who attended Monday's community forum at Sulzer Library said they were generally fans of the pizzeria chain, homeowners in the restaurant's immediate vicinity were up in arms over the potential for noise from a sidewalk cafe with 50 to 60 seats.
"Outdoor seating on Leavitt is not going to happen. It'll make you guys miserable," said Smith, who lives directly across from the Golden Angel property and is the parent of young children.
Smith, the music director for Hard Rock International and an acoustic specialist, vowed to measure noise with a decibel meter and "call every time" it exceeded acceptable levels.
And, he added, "I've got a really flatulent dog, so I can just walk him back and forth during dinner service."
Neighbors also complained about Malnati's plans to reduce the number of spaces in its parking lot from the current 13 to seven. The restaurant's customers and employees would likely spill over onto adjacent side streets, and "there goes all the parking on Leavitt," lamented one resident.
"You guys are welcome, like everyone in the 47th Ward, to apply for permit parking," suggested Ernie Constantino of Ald. Ameya Pawar's office.
Constantino also pointed out that the sidewalk cafe would require a separate approval unrelated to the zoning change.
If the zoning change is allowed, Malnati's wants maintain the framework of the existing Golden Angel structure and buy a couple of homes to the immediate south, which it would demolish and replace with an expansion of the restaurant, according to Timothy Schmitt of Studio 222 Architects, which is designing the space.
Schmitt projected a summer 2014 opening if all goes smoothly with the permit process.
Lindsey Kornblatt, Malnati's interior designer, said the "theme is going to be family-friendly, cozy and quaint" with lots of plants and greenery outside and room for 90 to 100 diners inside, including a front atrium.
A garden area planned for the north end of the triangle property would give patrons a place to wait in warm weather. "We're hoping to have an Italian ice cart in summer," she said.
Steven Gross and Christine Schaaf's home will abut Malnati's southern expansion.
Though Schaaf had concerns about noise, the placement of dumpsters and traffic, she said that Malnati's would be an upgrade.
"I've been here 15 years, and I can count on one hand the number of times I've eaten at the Golden Angel," she said. "And it's only been bacon and eggs and toast."
Added her husband, "The Golden Angel is a dump. This is an improvement."