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Commercial Real Estate

Developer, Retailer Discuss La Canada Flintridge Project

April 27, 1999|JESUS SANCHEZ | TIMES STAFF WRITER

Shopping center developer Rick J. Caruso is negotiating with the owner of the Sport Chalet chain to build a major retail project in the retailer's hometown of La Canada Flintridge.

The talks began after it became clear that a proposal by Sport Chalet founder Norbert Olberz to build a 153,000-square-foot office and retail center would fail because of fierce community opposition.

In fact, many of those opposed to Olberz's proposal had asked Caruso--who has been praised for upscale retail developments in Calabasas and other affluent suburbs--to participate in the development.

Darla Longo, a lifelong La Canada resident, said she asked Caruso to consider her hometown after attending the opening of his Westlake retail center about two years ago. "We want the quality and thoughtfulness and the environment that Rick has created in his shopping centers," said Longo, one of the many residents who is fighting Olberz's proposal for the nearly 12-acre parcel he controls in the heart of La Canada.

Critics say the $32-million project Olberz proposes would resemble a giant strip mall and would undermine the community's small-town character. His plans call for a giant Sport Chalet store, corporate headquarters, a supermarket and other retailers.

The project won local government support in February. But a newly elected City Council rescinded the approval las week and repealed the ordinance that would have permitted Olberz to go ahead with the project as originally proposed.

Olberz and his staff were not available for comment.

Caruso, president of Santa Monica-based Caruso Affiliated Holdings, said he is discussing buying and taking over the project outright or teaming up with Olberz, whose firm recently announced plans to build four giant new outlets in the Southland. If an agreement can be reached, Caruso said, the La Canada development will probably resemble his other projects, which feature outdoor promenades and shopping arcades that have become popular community gathering spaces.

"We love the area," said Caruso, whose company failed in a previous attempt to buy a shopping center in La Canada Flintridge. "It's a very tight market, and there is not a lot available out there."

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