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The State

Suit Seeks to Halt Theater's Conversion

Court: A group sues Pasadena to reverse a decision to remake a landmark into shops, offices and homes.

January 24, 2002|RICHARD WINTON | TIMES STAFF WRITER

A judge will decide whether the curtain finally falls on Pasadena's historic Raymond Theatre.

Seeking to overturn the Pasadena City Council's approval of the owners' plan to convert the 80-year-old landmark to shops, offices and apartments, an arts group has sued the municipality.

The Foundation for the Realization of Contemporary Arts, Sciences and Technologies and Pasadena resident Robert Frampton ask a judge to set aside the council's Jan. 7 approval of zoning variances that OKd the development of the 1,800-seat venue.

Owners Gene and Marilyn Buchanan, with that approval, can turn the balcony into offices and the main auditorium area into retail space, and build 62 apartments in the parking lot and the 90-foot-high stage house.

But the suit alleges that approval amounts to special privileges, which violate state law and local zoning ordinances and should be invalidated. The city, according to the suit, failed to consider evidence of economically viable alternatives for the theater.

"We complied with all state, federal laws as well as local ordinances," said Pasadena City Atty. Michele Beal Bagneris. The city attorney, who had yet to be served with the lawsuit, said the city did an extensive study of alternatives.

Marilyn Buchanan said the suit, filed Tuesday, is a last-ditch effort to stop new life from being breathed into the building at 129 N. Raymond Ave., which has sat vacant for a decade. "It is embarrassing to walk past that building to me, and it's about time we helped it come back to life," she said. "They have the right to sue. But we think their case is without merit."

The Buchanans' attorney, R. Scott Jenkins, said the suit's accusation that evidence of alternatives was not considered is ridiculous, given that there were hundreds of pages of economic studies on uses such as theaters and nightclubs.

A council majority agreed that those other uses could not keep the venue solvent.

Weighing heavily on that finding was the failure last year of lawyer Pierce O'Donnell and entrepreneur Harvey Knell to acquire the theater and preserve it.

After agreeing to buy it for a performing arts center, they could not secure financing or a developer for an adjacent apartment structure that they hoped would help fund the $3.5-million purchase price.

The suit also alleges that Gene Buchanan did not disclose to the city that he had rejected offers to lease and buy the theater.

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