Construction of a cinema and restaurant complex at Century City Shopping Center is nearly complete. There are flashing lights over Santa Monica Boulevard, and a billboard announces the grand opening on the second week of October.
But, as the date approaches, the future of the 14 theaters and 32 eateries remains in question because of a small, residential neighborhood next to the center.
The people of housing Tract 7260 Assn.--about 500 homeowners--worry that the complex will bring even more traffic and noise to their beleaguered cluster of homes.
So they have put two common city ordinances to rather uncommon uses and have forced the shopping center into last-minute negotiations over such issues as parking, traffic flow and the hours restaurants and theaters can be open.
'David and Goliath'
"We've been in a David-and-Goliath position, so we've had to use our wits," said John French, 75, a 40-year resident of the tract. "That's the nature of city life, I guess."
Shopping center officials, for their part, are wondering how the tract could suddenly hinder a project that received city approval two years ago.
The Century City Marketplace and Century 14 Theaters are intended to attract patrons in the evening and on weekends, when Century City is usually quiet.
"We don't want to break any laws and we've tried to be straightforward about this from the beginning," said Mike Strle, general manager of the center. "To have this thrown at us at the 11th hour is particularly frustrating."
For Strle and his shopping center, the problems began last July.
Tract 7260 discovered that it was legally entitled to oppose Strle's request for city liquor permits for restaurants at the complex. In effect, the tract tried to hold the permits hostage and force Strle to bargain on other issues.
The most crucial aspect of the conflict appears to be closing time for the theaters. The residents want the projectors turned off by midnight. The shopping center says it must offer a midnight-to-1:45 a.m. showing to compete with theaters in neighboring Westwood. Residents want to keep cars from driving and parking on their streets. They want the complex to close by 11 on weeknights and midnight on weekends so that traffic noise will not keep them awake.
The city Office of Zoning Administration temporarily blocked the permits and told the shopping center to work out an agreement with residents. Homeowner activists outside the area hailed Tract 7260's efforts.
"There are precious few legal forums to be heard in when a community group is up against a large developer," said Patrick McCartney, president of the Coalition of Concerned Communities, a Westside umbrella group.
Shopping center officials subsequently met with homeowners three times during August and September, but negotiations ended in a stalemate.
Find Another Weapon
Meanwhile, the homeowners stumbled on another weapon. They uncovered a recently enacted city ordinance, intended to regulate modern mini-malls, that may force concessions from the 25-year-old shopping center.
The ordinance requires, among other things, that commercial developments next to residential communities close their doors by 11 p.m.
The shopping center could ask for an exemption, but that would require a public hearing at which residents could seek restrictions on parking, closing time and traffic.
"That would be a very strong piece of ammunition for the homeowners," said John Perica, a zoning administrator. He said exceptions are granted "almost always with extensive restrictions."
Strle said he does not believe that the ordinance applies to his shopping center. The center's attorney's have appealed to the zoning administration office and the city attorney.
Opening in Two Weeks
No further administrative hearings are scheduled, and Strle said that unless city officials act within two weeks, the complex will open on schedule.
The shopping center is seeking 21 liquor permits to distribute among its five restaurants and 27 fast-food stands. The residents are asking that only five permits be granted.
The liquor permit issue, with its accompanying restrictions, remains to be settled by a zoning officer, who will devise his own compromise for the two sides.
Applicability of the mini-mall ordinance awaits word from city officials. That could take months.