Although no tenants have yet formally signed on to occupy it, plans were unveiled in City Hall Tuesday morning for a shopping complex within the area owned La Cañada Properties, held by Sport Chalet founder Norbert Olberz and his family.
A La Cañada Flintridge man, Darren Mattix, will develop the project, according to Eric Olberz, Norbert's son.
Reached at his office Tuesday afternoon, Eric Olberz opted not to talk about the specifics of the project but instead read from a prepared statement:
"La Cañada Properties is pleased to have engaged Mattix Development Partners as the exclusive developer for our land holdings that are situated within the Downtown Village Specific Plan area.
"I anticipate that Mattix Development Partners will bring forth a project that is befitting of the community and in keeping with the ideals presented within the specific plan," said the junior Olberz, a CPA affiliated with La Cañada Properties who also sits on the board of directors of Sport Chalet, Inc.
Acknowledging a series of back and forth discussions with the city's planning department and public hearings before city commissions lie ahead, Mattix said he is confident his project will meet the specifications and spirit of the Downtown Village Specific Plan and will gain approval. He is also optimistic construction can begin relatively soon.
"My timeline goal is to be complete with [the city's] process and ready to begin construction in the first quarter of next year," Mattix said.
Sport Chalet, he said, is the "logical anchor tenant," but, as of this week, neither the sporting goods retailer nor any other business had inked any deals to be included in the roughly 10-acre shopping park stretching east from Angeles Crest Highway to the northern extension of Beulah, north of Foothill Boulevard. The proposed plan features five building blocks plus the existing Taylor's restaurant.
The largest of those blocks, situated just west of the existing Sport Chalet headquarters office, is where the anchor tenant would be housed, according to Mattix. It is marked "A" in the conceptual site plan provided by the developer, and features rooftop parking. Mattix said the "A" building itself would be nestled into the sloping property.
One of the features of the proposed center is a park of about three-quarter acres in size, located directly in front of Sport Chalet's headquarters. Another feature is a road bisecting the property from west to east to ease traffic flow.
At this point, Mattix said he is unsure whether or not buildings currently dubbed B, C, D and E in the plan would house more than one business each; it depends on the needs of potential tenants. He sidestepped a question as to the square footage of the project, but did say the acreage is not as large as some think it might be in regards to a shopping park complex. "When you consider the streets and the park, the shopping center itself will only be on about nine acres, which is not very big," Mattix said.
Mattix has resided in this community for nine years and witnessed the most recent failed attempt to develop a shopping park at the same site.
That 1997-99 effort divided the community, with proponents saying Olberz should be allowed to go ahead with the plans presented by his then-developer, Arthur Pearlman, while a grassroots group that organized under the name of "Friends of 91011" opposed the project on a number of points, not the least of which was its size.
By a narrow, 3-2 margin, Pearlman's project, which would have included a new Sport Chalet, Vons supermarket and other retail shops and restaurants, was approved by the LCF City Council. But Friends of 91011 filed suit against that council's approval of a flawed environmental impact report for the project. Coincidentally, a City Council election was held within a month of the project's approval and the tide turned immediately; the newly seated council overturned the previous council's decision and put the wheels into motion for the Downtown Village Specific Plan to come to fruition.
The specific plan process, which encouraged community involvement every step of the way, including that of members of Friends of 91011, spanned about a year, cost the city approximately $500,000 to complete, and included an environmental impact report. The end result addressed many of the concerns opponents of the Pearlman-designed shopping center had brought up during hearings for that project.
Mattix, who has experience developing some 17 high-end retail projects in Beverly Hills, said he actively participated in the community workshops that were part and parcel of the new specific plan process. "The Downtown Village Specific Plan sets out goals and ideals, it speaks for itself," Mattix said of the end product, which was unanimously adopted by the City Council in November 2000.
(The specific plan document is available at the public library on Oakwood Avenue, or online at www.lacanadaflintridge.com)
Aware that some neighbors of the La Cañada Properties holdings have been very concerned about what might or might not be done with the land, Mattix spent time last weekend going door-to-door to advise them of his plans. He said that, for the most part, people he spoke to are in favor of a shopping center.
"At one of the houses I stopped by, I was invited indoors and spent nearly 45 minutes talking to this couple who were very supportive. They told me they were waiting for something to happen [at the project site]."
On hand Tuesday morning to see Mattix's plans firsthand were Robert Stanley, the city's director of community development, and two members of the City Council, Mayor Pro Tem Greg Brown and Steve Del Guercio. The latter two are on a mayor-appointed committee to oversee developments within the Downtown Village Specific Plan.
"This is the most significant development in this city since cityhood [in 1976]," Brown said. "We want to make sure it follows the specific plan."
He added that Sport Chalet in general and Norbert Olberz in particular had made vast contributions to the community that cannot be overlooked, and that for the past few years it has looked like they were disheartened by the inability to get a shopping center project underway. "It's great to see they're willing to go forward," Brown said.
Del Guercio pointed out the goal of the specific plan was to put the community's vision for the downtown commercial district in place "It's already out there, on the table, so there won't be so much trial and error," he said.
Mayor Anthony Portantino, one of those elected to the City Council in the spring of 1999, said this week he was pleased to learn about plans for the proposed shopping center.
"For the last six years the goal of the City Council has been to create a fair process which had a genesis with the Downtown Village Specific Plan and significant public outreach that went along with it," Portantino said. "It has been the community's hope that a project could be developed consistent with that plan. Going forward we need to continue to see that there's an objective process that's open to the public. I'm cautiously optimistic."