Whiskey bar, bistro pass first Lake Forest hurdle
Members of the City of Lake Forest Plan Commission unanimously passed a Special Use Permit for 9 Fifty Whiskey and Westwood Bistro in the now-vacant King Maa and Burger King spots. Commission members include (from left) John Anderson, LLoyd Culbertson, Mi
Updated: March 1, 2013 7:44PM
LAKE FOREST — The community’s first proposal for an upscale whiskey bar has cleared the Lake Forest Plan Commission and is headed to the city council for its review, possibly as early as Feb. 19.
The plan commission approved the request made by Lake Forest Restaurant Group, Inc. for a Special Use Permit to operate 9 Fifty Whiskey Bar in the space formerly occupied by King Maa at 950 N. Western Ave. and Westwood Bistro in the former Burger King space in the same complex. The group, owned by locals Ted Boufis, who operates Grille No. 43 in Lake Bluff, and Jeffrey Schnoll needs an SUP to open the restaurants within 150 feet of a residential zoning district. The two commercial spaces are vacant.
The plan commission’s unanimous approval came after a lengthy public hearing Jan. 23 at which several residents expressed concern about the project. It was the second time the plan commission met with the petitioners; the discussion was continued from the Dec. 12 meeting.
Whiskey Bar would serve food and high-end specialty whiskeys to an adult-only clientele. Westwood Bistro would be a family restaurant that would seat approximately 120 and include a bar.
“My house is within feet of this proposal,” said resident Marliss Turek, who lives on Atteridge Road. She said the proposed outdoor dining patio for the Bistro at Woodland Road and Western Avenue and open sliding windows on the Whiskey Bar facing Western Avenue will create noise that will “substantially diminish the value” of her home and the surrounding neighborhood.
“I hope you’ll at least deny the outdoor patio and bar,” she said.
Resident Mike Metzger, also of Atteridge Road, suggested the patio be situated to the southernmost limits of the property “to bring it further and further from the residential area,” he said, thereby reducing the noise level.
“We feel we’re acting on a big trend in the restaurant business,” Schnoll, one of the petitioners, said.
Metzger said the hours of operation should be limited and parking monitored to prevent patrons and employees from leaving cars in the residential neighborhood. There are 24 surface parking lot spaces, a 60-car underground parking lot for the building and public parking spaces along Western Avenue.
“This development has more on site parking than any other development in the Central Business District,” Community Development Coordinator Cathy Czerniak said.
Four of the five commissioners agreed to limit and set the same hours for outdoor dining and the opening of the sliding glass doors on Western Avenue. Commissioner Michael Ley was opposed to the sliding doors on the Whiskey Bar and specifically asked that the record show while he approved the request for the SUP, he did not approve the open doors. “I don’t support this notion at all,” he said.
Commissioner Jeff Kuchman said approving an SUP for the businesses “fundamentally changes the nature of that corner.” Noting that there were two failed restaurants that operated there and he didn’t want to limit the restaurant operators in their quest to create two successful businesses.
Chairman Jack Reisenberg said he heard and appreciated neighbors’ concerns, adding, “We haven’t heard residents talk about the joy of being able to walk to a restaurant. I think it would enhance the value of your property.” In recent community studies, respondents have said they wanted more restaurants in the community.
Roberta Boyaris, who lives on Oakwood Avenue directly behind the proposed Westwood Bistro — the home closest to the proposed businesses — said Monday she didn’t mind the outdoor patio or restaurants opening there, but wasn’t too crazy about the name.
“In terms of the Whiskey Bar, I think they used a poor choice for the name of the bar,” she said.
Boyaris, however, is realistic about the property’s future. The 30-year-old building “was there when we moved here,” the 18-year resident said. “Having something in there is better than having nothing in there. To be vacant, that doesn’t look good.”
The petitioners will return to the Lake Forest Building Review Board for final action on the design on Wednesday, Feb. 6. The Lake Forest City Council is expected to review the proposal and the conditions of approval set by the plan commission on Tuesday, Feb. 19.