More choices for Glendale movie-goers

Movie-goers will have more cinematic choices in late 2013 after a five-screen Laemmle Theatres complex is completed at Wilson and Maryland avenues in Glendale, along with 42 residential units and retail space, according to final plans approved by city officials.

However, a lack of on-site parking and the fact that the city is giving away the 21,500-square-foot piece of land to the developers came into question before a 4-1 vote was cast on the $16-million mixed-use project.

The Laemmle Theatre, which screens American independent and foreign films as well as documentaries, will serve as an anchor to revitalize the faltering Glendale Exchange, city officials said. It will also attract residents with more cultured tastes to patronize local restaurants, stores and the Alex Theatre.

“This project is going to be a huge shot in the arm for upper Brand,” Mayor Laura Friedman said last week before voting to approve the plans. “For the restaurants, for the retailers, for bodies on the street, for all the types of activities we want to have. It’s also a cultural boost because of the type of product they offer.”

The four-story building will house the theater and 6,000 square feet of retail space on the ground floor with apartments on the three floors above, according to plans submitted by developers Laemmle Theatres and Mapleton RDS Real Estate Group.

When the project was initially approved in March, concerns were expressed that it didn’t include any on-site parking for residents living in the loft apartments. Seventy off-site parking spaces would have been leased in the nearby city-owned garage at the Exchange, according to the original plans.

Revised plans include a level of underground parking with 44 spaces exclusively for residents and a space for a shared electric car. The lease agreement with the Exchange was dropped.

The project is shy 118 parking spaces required by city regulations, but officials waived that requirement due to available off-site parking.

City staff cited a study of Glendale’s designated Arts and Entertainment District that showed adequate parking is available in public and private lots on weekdays and weekends.

Councilman Dave Weaver voted against the project, saying he would prefer a master plan be developed for the area south of the Alex Theatre.

“There’s a difference between me and [city] staff about whether that’s been done,” Weaver said. “I do not believe it has.”

After the meeting, Weaver said additional parking, preferably underground, must be built to replace the spaces taken away by the Laemmle project and for new retail businesses and restaurants that will one day fill vacant storefronts as the new theater project takes off.

Currently on the site at Wilson and Maryland is a surface parking lot with 44 spaces and a retail building leased to Panda Inn.

The redevelopment agency will give the land, valued at $2.5 million, to the developers and pitch in $2.6 million in assistance funding, according to city officials.

During the meeting, Councilman Rafi Manoukian, who voted for the project, asked why the city is giving the property to the developers rather than leasing it.

After the meeting, Marc Nathanson, chair of Mapleton, said changing the property arrangement would adversely affect financing for the project.

He also said Mapleton and Laemmle need to own the property in case the apartments are switched to condominiums in the future.

City officials cautioned that the project, which is going through the city’s redevelopment agency, cannot begin construction until the settlement of a lawsuit before the California Supreme Court, seeking to overturn two laws passed earlier this year — one that abolishes redevelopment agencies altogether and the other, a compromise law, that allows agencies to continue to operate if they hand over money to pay for schools and public services.

Nathanson said he is aware of the potential legal sticking point.

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