John Pergal, owner of the Thunderbird Cafe in Lawrenceville, wants to expand his business, but people who live near the club at 40th and Butler streets say a ramped-up capacity would tip the balance on a barely tenable situation.
The two sides appeared Thursday before the Zoning Board of Adjustment, where the applicant Christopher Lasky, vice president of Massaro Construction Management Services, requested special exceptions and variances for a second restaurant and off-site parking.
A new restaurant would occupy 3,250 square feet and the Thunderbird would grow from 5,754 to 9,100 square feet. Plans call for demolishing one adjacent building and adding two- and three-story additions to two others that would include four upstairs apartments.
The club has secured several lots throughout the neighborhood for valets to park up to 200 cars.
Mr. Pergal and his representatives have met with community groups for the past two years. Mr. Lasky said as a result they agreed to shrink their plans from 1,000 seats to 750 to 625. The current occupancy permit is for 246.
"You will hear complaints about a 'South Side effect,' " said the Thunderbird's attorney Mitchel Zemel, referring to problems that have developed around the South Side's bar scene. He characterized the Thunderbird's crowds as older.
But a number of residents said they are awakened by patrons emerging from concerts who sometimes fight, sit on their porches and put out cigarettes in their planters. They cited Butler and 40th as being a bottleneck already and anticipated cars queuing up for valets or not waiting and parking instead on residential streets where residents often can't find spaces.
Allison Hydzik said her family lives near the Thunderbird and has gone there "to see cool, small local shows. Where it's located it's not appropriate for large national acts."
Rob Stephany, a nearby resident and former head of the city's Urban Redevelopment Authority, called the expansion plan "a great vision in a terrible location."
"We tolerate substantial street theater," Mr. Stephany said. "The notion of ramping that up seems onerous."
Tom Madigan, attorney for the Lawrenceville Corp. and Lawrenceville United, questioned the zoning classification of the property, which has a primary use is described as a restaurant.
"We think its primary use is entertainment," he said.
Mr. Madigan said the code requires an alternative parking plan that the applicant doesn't have. A study on how the valet system would work also was not ready, Mr. Zemel said.
The boards of Lawrenceville United and the Lawrenceville Corp. voted to oppose the proposed expansion, and city Councilman Patrick Dowd also spoke out against it.
"Lawrenceville has changed drastically in the last 10 years and residents and business owners have worked diligently to maintain a balance," he said. "The neighborhood wants to support the Thunderbird, but this application will disrupt and destroy the balance."