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Pool Hall, Dry Cleaners Draw Chilly Response From Albany Park Residents

By Patty Wetli | October 11, 2013 11:43am
 Albany Park residents were resistant to proposals for a pool hall and dry cleaners.
Pool Hall, Dry Cleaners Proposed for Albany Park
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ALBANY PARK — Lawrence Avenue already has one pool hall that's a "breeding ground for nefarious activity," according to residents.

It doesn't need another, they argued.

That was the message representatives from various civic groups sent to a pair of entrepreneurs looking to open a pool hall/restaurant at 3030 W. Lawrence Ave. in the former Modern Furniture space. They would share the 25,000-square-foot building with the apparel shop Socksco, which already occupies the majority of the storefront.

During a community forum organized by Ald. Deb Mell (33rd), Azamat Kenjebaev and Tugolbay Apyshev, immigrants from Kyrgystan, laid out their vision for a combined restaurant/entertainment venue that would serve Central Asian cuisine, similar to their other ventures, which include Bai Cafe in Lakeview and Jibek Jolu in Lincoln Square.

"It will be a new style of food for the area," said Apyshev.

"I've seen the place on Lincoln; it's a lovely place," said Amy Kozy, of the West River Park Improvement Association, referring to Jibek Jolu. "Put that around the corner from me, and I'd be happy."

It's the addition of a recreation component — in the form of pool tables and ping-pong tables — that drew resistance from residents. The partners' potential pursuit of a liquor license and plans to remain open until 4 a.m. raised more red flags.

"When you're talking about four in the morning, recreational goes out the window," said Roya Mehrnoosh of the West River Park Improvement Association.

Neighbors cited Uno Billiards, located just up the street at 3112 W. Lawrence Ave., as a magnet for undesirable activity.

The area already is plagued by "businesses monopolized by drunk men," added neighbor Liz Libby.

Eric Filson of Albany Park Neighbors asked whether Kenjebaev and Apyshev have plans for security, bouncers, video cameras and exterior lighting, particularly in the adjacent parking lot.

Kenjebaev tried to allay neighbors fears by promising security cameras and brightly lit windows, and indicated he and Apyshev weren't married to the idea of obtaining a liquor license. The late hours, he said, were to accommodate patrons who don't work 9-to-5 jobs. 

The pool and ping-pong tables, he explained, were intended to fill a void in the Central Asian community and among other immigrant groups, who lack a place to play a style of billiards that differs from Americans'.

"We will make it very nice, very clean, very upscale," he said.

Neighbors remained skeptical.

"Right now, I don't hear anything the neighborhood wants," said Libby.

The partners' lack of architectural drawings to show the design of the potential restaurant/pool hall suggested that the developers hadn't completely thought through their proposal, some neighbor said.

"There's a lot of questions," said Dana Fritz, chief of staff for Mell. "I'm going to task you guys to work with our office and the North River Commission."

Kenjebaev agreed to fine-tune his concept.

"We are here not just to get your support but to hear what you want," he said. "Next time, we will come with a detailed plan."

At the same meeting, Hassib Blan presented his proposal to replace the laundromat he operates at 4640 N. Kedzie Ave. with a dry cleaners. To make the change, Blan would require a zoning change from the B category — small-scale retail neighborhood shopping — to the C-1 category, which is "neighborhood commercial."

Though neighbors questioned how Blan's promise of a "green" operation could be verified and/or regulated, the zoning change was the primary sticking point with residents.

The laundromat is in a strip mall, a property Blan has owned for nearly 20 years. A zoning change to allow a dry cleaners would result in a change for the entire building.

C-1 zoning permits liquor stores, warehouses and auto shops. While Blan vowed he had no intention of leasing space to such businesses, the mere potential was labeled a "risk" by neighbors.

"We'll look into rezoning and see what's available," said Fritz.

Both proposals remain under consideration with the alderman's office.