New cafe proposed to replace shuttered Mr. A’s in Crystal Lake but plan commission votes no

City Council to vote on Aug. 6

Developers are looking to replace the former Mr. A’s restaurant with a  new “health-conscious” grab and go restaurant in Crystal Lake, but planning and zoning commission gave the plan a thumbs down.

A proposal has been developed to replace the former Mr. A’s restaurant with a new “health-conscious” grab-and-go restaurant in Crystal Lake, but planning and zoning commission gave the plan a thumbs down.

A cafe with a bar and an outdoor patio called Lake Roots was proposed to the Crystal Lake Planning and Zoning Commission, with a request to rezone a portion of the land from residential to commercial. Commissioners in a 2-4 vote Wednesday declined to recommend the request, citing concerns of traffic congestion and parking.

Mr. A’s Italian Beef, located at 475 W. Virginia St., closed in 2021 after 54 years in business. Developers plan to use the existing building with an addition. The owner of the land, Rod Russell, first proposed a conceptual plan in 2022 but held off on moving forward until after construction on Dole Avenue was completed, attorney Lisa Waggoner said.

“We want to provide a destination that the community is proud of,” Russell said.

Russell describes Lake Roots as a health-conscious fast casual cafe with dine-in options, a small bar, a small market area and an outdoor patio. The outdoor area would have 35 seats and be partially covered for a shaded area. The name represents Crystal Lake-native Russell’s multi-generational connection to the city, he said.

“Lake Roots also stands for farm to table,” Russell said. “There’s obviously a lot of food options on Route 14. A lot of it fast food, a lot of it chains. We wanted a place where it was a little more elevated, but also would appeal to all walks.”

The land is comprised of three parcels under one ownership. The south and west lots were never formally rezoned from residential to commercial, City Planner Elizabeth Maxwell said. Variances of smaller parking lot setbacks and less landscaping are requested due to the narrowness of the lot, she said. A variance to allow the building to be colored outside the natural parameters to a muted teal color is also requested, according to city documents.

Developers plan to have an entrance on Dole Avenue and create an exit on Pierson Street with right-in and right-out access on Route 14. Parking is planned to be in four areas with a front lot, parallel spaces, five angled spaces leading to Pierson Street and a west lot with 17 spaces.

Some neighboring residents spoke against the plan with opposition against the rezoning from residential to commercial.

“Changing the zoning from residential to business will change the character of the neighborhood and allow for business encroachment on the homes within the neighborhood,” resident Erin Philpot said.

Resident Scott Brownley had reservations about the outdoor patio that could potentially bring light and noise pollution to the neighboring homes.

“I don’t think anybody is excited to hear that a beer garden is moving in across the street,” he said.

Russell said the outdoor area would be more like a family-friendly patio than a beer garden and would close at 10 p.m.

“I just think this is genius for this location,” Commissioner Kathy Repholz said. “I hope it creates a bridge from the lake area to the downtown area.”

The majority of commissioners indicated they like the restaurant idea but did not approve of the parking lot layout and worry that traffic circulation could be a problem. Drivers could clog up nearby residential roads looking for parking at the disjointed lots, Commissioner Scott Smith said.

“Internal traffic flow is going to be – for how successful this could be – a nightmare,” he said. “It would drive me away.”

Commissioners suggested a different layout and to move the parking to the back of the building. The layout proposal puts “the consumer first” and envisions a leafy outdoor patio to be better in the back rather than closer to the busy Route 14, Russell said.

“We just feel like this is the only way to do it to create the consumer experience we want,” he said.

The City Council is scheduled to vote on the matter on Aug. 6, Maxwell said.

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