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Lincoln Square, North Center, Irving Park

Cloud Kitchens’ Plan To Resolve Traffic, Parking Problems In North Center Is Too Little, Too Late, Neighbors Say

“We just finished our second meeting about these problems and they’ve only gotten worse," Ald. Matt Martin said.

Julian Benson (right), Cloud Kitchens’ safety supervisor, and a security guard from Jetty's Security, which Cloud Kitchens' hired to help manage traffic, in front of the ghost kitchen's North Center location at 12:06 p.m. Feb. 18, 2021.
Alex V. Hernandez/Block Club Chicago
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NORTH CENTER — Some residents said they’ve had enough of chaotic parking and traffic problems around Cloud Kitchens’ North Center location.

The ghost kitchen at 4131 N. Rockwell St. opened last year despite pushback from neighbors and Ald. Matt Martin (47th). The surge in traffic in the area has led to two recent community meetings, including one Monday, with Cloud Kitchens officials promising to resolve the problems.

But neighbors fear the situation only will get worse. Martin and the company’s general manager have said the ghost kitchen is operating at only about half of its capacity. If it grows and brings more activity to the site, it’d make any traffic mitigation plan obsolete, neighbors said.

Some residents also told Block Club they are concerned city officials are not being transparent about the issue after journalists were blocked from attending a public meeting Monday and residents were denied records from the session.

Another meeting about the traffic issues is planned for 10 a.m. March 22.

Cloud Kitchens specializes in providing commercial “ghost kitchens” for delivery-only restaurants, avoiding typical overhead, licensing and hiring requirements. The North Center location is home to several restaurants that only offer takeout or delivery, the largest of which is Chick-fil-A. It also hosts Monti’s Cheesesteaks while its owner rebuilds after a fire.

Deidra Suber, general manager for Cloud Kitchens, said last month the kitchen fills an average of 50-75 orders per hour.

The business has led to a flurry of drivers in the area, causing parking issues and traffic headaches for residents and nearby businesses.

“Their security guards can’t even handle the traffic that they’re getting right now,” said Fares Zanayed, a neighbor near Rockwell.

Cloud Kitchens was required to submit a mitigation plan to the city earlier this month following a meeting in January. And the city’s Department of Business Affairs and Consumer Protection hosted a community meeting Monday with neighbors and Martin to review the company’s strategy to resolve these problems.

Pamela Spann, an attorney for the city’s Department of Business Affairs and Consumer Protection, barred reporters from attending the Monday meeting, saying it was exempt from the state’s open meeting laws. Neighbors attending would feel uncomfortable if a reporter was present for the discussion, she said.

Block Club attended the business department’s January meeting without issue. Late Friday, business department spokesman Isaac Reichman told Block Club Spann had neglected to inform attendees in January that journalists couldn’t attend, though he did not specifically cite which provision of the Open Meetings Act allowed the city to exclude journalists from a public meeting.

After Monday’s two-hour session, neighbors and Martin spoke to Block Club to summarize what was discussed.

Cloud Kitchens’ plan includes having third-party delivery drivers stay in a parking lot at 4111 N. Rockwell St. while waiting to pick up orders to lessen the number of cars double parked on the street. That will start next month.

Suber previously told Block Club the mitigation plan needs to be given time to succeed. She repeated her request for more time during Monday’s meeting, Martin said.

Suber declined to comment for this story. 

But Martin said the time to collaborate on a traffic plan would have been before Cloud Kitchens opened. 

“Problems first reached a boiling point in November when Chick-fil-A started being made and distributed on the premises,” Martin said. “We just finished our second meeting about these problems, and they’ve only gotten worse.”

Martin and neighbors never wanted the ghost kitchen to open in North Center and say the problems the business is causing were easily predicted based on its business model and location, which is why his patience is wearing thin. 

“It’s hard to hear Cloud Kitchens needs more time when we’ve been begging and pleading for robust steps to be taken,” Martin said.

Several neighbors said Malihe Samadi, a coordinating engineer for the city’s department of transportation, told Suber the way deliveries are being handled at Cloud Kitchens lacks common sense. The neighbors’ description of what Samadi said during Monday’s meeting was accurate, said Chicago Department of Transportation spokesperson Michael Claffey.

Samadi said 16-wheel trucks delivering supplies to Cloud Kitchens should not be double parking on Rockwell to unload or be navigating nearby alleys or residential streets to circle back to Irving Park Road, according to neighbors.

Samadi said the side streets and alleys around Cloud Kitchens can’t support vehicles any larger than a garbage truck, according to neighbors, and the location needs a loading dock that can accommodate large trucks and a dedicated delivery supervisor to manage the volume of supplies being delivered.

Neighbors said 16-wheel trucks are delivering supplies to Cloud Kitchens.

“I’ve got multiple photos of delivery trucks that are massive in the middle of the road taking 50 minutes to deliver eight loads of food in and out of the Cloud Kitchens building,” said Kristi Noonan, who lives near Rockwell. “While the truck is parked, multiple cars double parked in front of it and to the side of it blocking traffic on the street.”

After Monday’s meeting, a semi-truck was double parked on Rockwell to make deliveries to Cloud Kitchens that afternoon.

The truck arrived 3 p.m. and remained parked for about 35 minutes before the driver moved it further north on Rockwell to turn onto Berteau Avenue, neighbors said.

That’s “precisely” what the city’s Department of Transportation said isn’t allowed, Noonan said.

Credit: Provided.
Neighbors photographed a supply truck taking deliveries to Cloud Kitchens’ North Center location at 3 p.m. Feb. 22, 2021.

Transparency Concerns

Neighbors said they spoke to Block Club because they were concerned the city’s business department did not allow journalists to cover the meeting.

“These meetings need to be covered so that the community can fully understand what’s going on in them,” said Katie Mcavoy, a neighbor who attended. “I don’t like that they didn’t let reporters in.”

On Tuesday night, neighbor Jeff Jenkins said he asked Spann to provide a copy of the meeting minutes and she denied the request without explanation.

“Unfortunately, the meeting notes are not shared,” Spann said in an email reviewed by Block Club.

In a statement, Reichman said Monday’s meeting was not a disciplinary proceeding but a tool to address nuisance issues raised by the community.

“These meetings are designed to serve as a type of mediation that enables the licensee and the community members to resolve issues and, as such, attendance is limited to the licensee, the alderman, local community members and, if appropriate, the local police district,” he said.

Because the meetings are not disciplinary in nature, official minutes are not maintained, Reichman said.

Reichman also said the city code allows the Department of Business Affairs and Consumer Protection to host meetings based on requests from the local alderman or members of the community and that those “meetings can then be convened between BACP and the licensee in the presence of the complaining persons.”

Reichman’s response did not specify which city rules exempted Monday’s meeting from the state’s open meetings act.

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