Alleged banquet hall goes before council again

CITY HALL — A battle over language, and its implications for a restaurant on San Fernando Road, is expected to play out before the City Council on Tuesday.

Owners of Ambrosia Restaurant on the 6400 block of San Fernando Road are scheduled to appeal to the council on Tuesday to let a caveat stand in their recently amended conditional-use permit that would allow “incidental private parties” despite an earlier decision by the Planning Commission in June to remove the added language.

The phrase, however small, has been a major point of contention among some activists who have argued the phrase — added by Zoning Administrator Edith Fuentes when renewing the restaurant’s permit in February — would allow Ambrosia to hold banquets in violation of city zoning codes.

In June, City Manager Jim Starbird took the unusual step of appealing Fuentes’ permit renewal to the Planning Commission, arguing that Ambrosia could construe the added language as an endorsement of banquet hall operations, which community activists have long railed against as not conducive to nearby residential neighborhoods.

He also contended, as have neighborhood activists, that the hearing on which Fuentes based her added language was for the renewed ability to sell alcohol, and was not publicly noticed as having anything to do with land use.

Ambrosia and almost all other restaurants in Glendale can use no more than 30% of their floor space for private parties or banquets. Any alteration to their operating stipulations would affect the use of the parcel and trigger additional review.

Jolene Taylor, who testified in favor of revoking the added language to the permit in June, said on Friday that the current battle could have been avoided altogether had Fuentes not overstepped the boundaries of the original renewal hearing for a conditional permit allowing alcohol sales.

“She made the changes beyond the scope of her authority,” Taylor said.

At the June appeals hearing, Fuentes told planning commissioners that it was never her intent to create confusion.

Ambrosia manager Levik Beginyan appealed to the Planning Commission at the same hearing to allow the language for private parties to remain in the conditional-use permit, arguing that banquets provided vital income at a time when a weak economy has hit the restaurant business particularly hard.

Commissioners at the time refused to consider the economic hardship argument, saying it was outside the scope of the appeals hearing, which centered on restoring the original language.

Derek Tabone, the attorney representing Ambrosia, said his client was victim of an apparent effort to shut down banquet hall facilities in a bow to a handful of activists.

“I see the same group of people that seem to be opposed to every banquet hall . . . I don’t see the local people getting up there and complaining,” he said.

City officials have, over the past several months, stepped up their enforcement of city codes as they apply to restaurants. Those found to be in violation, mostly of the so-called 30% rule, have seen added legal pressure from the City Attorney’s Office to comply, and conditional-use permits have come under greater scrutiny from neighborhood activists.

But for all the contention over the nuanced language in Fuentes’ conditional-use permit, Tabone said he intended to press for the unrestricted right for Ambrosia to hold banquets. He argued the restaurant had “vested right” to host banquets since it was “grandfathered” in when the 30% rule was adopted in 2002, although city planners have disputed that.

“It was built as a banquet hall, and at night they can only survive if they host banquets,” Tabone said.

On Tuesday, the City Council can either instruct the city attorney to draft findings in support of the Planning Commission, or an opinion in support of Ambrosia according to established zoning code requirements, Assistant Planning Director Tim Foy said.

The draft would then come back to the council for a final vote in the coming weeks.


 JEREMY OBERSTEIN covers business, politics and the foothills. He may be reached at (818) 637-3215 or by e-mail at jeremy.oberstein@ latimes.com.

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