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Plans for Theaters May Flunk Screen Test

Times Staff Writer

Los Angeles officials are leaning toward bringing down the curtain on a budding boom in building movie theaters on Ventura Boulevard in Encino.

The city’s Board of Zoning Appeals voted 2 to 1 to block construction of a $22-million shopping center that would have a 1,500-seat, five-screen complex at the northeast corner of Ventura and Gaviota Avenue.

The vote was not final, however, because two board members who were absent will vote after listening to a tape of Tuesday’s three-hour public hearing, officials said.

The 70,000-square-foot Encino Marketplace project is the first of three shopping centers--all oriented toward movie theaters--proposed for a 1 1/2-mile stretch of the boulevard. The other two are each earmarked to have six screens.

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Homeowners Protest

All three proposals have drawn complaints from Encino homeowners who contend that their neighborhoods would be disrupted by theatergoers.

Zoning board members agreed.

“We don’t need another 1,500-seat theater there,” said Nikolas Patsaouras, president of the panel. “Somebody’s got to convince me there’s a need for five new theaters.”

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Board member James D. Leewong complained that traffic in and out of the planned 765-space parking structure would use Gaviota, which serves several hundred homes north of the boulevard. He characterized the parking design as “one of the worst I’ve ever seen.”

“Why is it the theaters have to serve the entire San Fernando Valley from Ventura Boulevard?” he asked. “The parking would be a nightmare.”

That echoed complaints of Encino residents who, seizing upon a popular series of horror movies, have dubbed the project “The Nightmare on Gaviota Street.” Homeowners triggered Tuesday’s hearing by appealing a zoning officer’s earlier recommendation of approval of a conditional use permit.

‘Continual Traffic Jam’

“There would be an immediate and continual traffic jam whenever the theaters let out,” testified Gerald A. Silver, a Gaviota Avenue resident who is president of Homeowners of Encino. “We fear they will spill over parking into the neighborhood. This stretch of Ventura Boulevard is in a crisis. A theater would be absolutely a nightmare for us.”

Rob Glushon, a director the Encino Property Owners Assn., warned that it would be difficult to keep motorists from driving through the neighborhood when crowds of filmgoers are let out of the movies late at night.

But developer Jason Heltzer said he was willing to post guards and install a concrete barrier that would keep customers leaving the movie from turning north on Gaviota from the shopping center parking structure.

Bob Miller, an executive of Mann Theaters, which hopes to operate the cineplex, pledged that the theaters would stagger show times to avoid traffic jams. He told the panel that there is a need for additional movie houses in Encino, which now has three screens.

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To the dismay of some residents, City Councilman Marvin Braude refused to take a firm position on the controversy. He told board members to use their “best judgment in allowing usage that will result in the least amount of traffic.”

Officials said the two missing board members will make their decisions in private after listening to the tapes. If they also believe that the theaters should be banned, Heltzer can appeal to the City Council to overturn the ruling.

Of the other two theater projects--a 1,600-seat cineplex on the north side of Ventura and east of Encino Avenue and an 1,800-seat development north of Ventura and east of Hayvenhurst Avenue--apparently only the smaller complex will face city scrutiny.

City officials only have a voice in a project when some discretionary action is required, such as a zone change, a variance or a conditional use permit.


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