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SHELLY GARCIA Staff Reporter A proposed $34 million retail development in Studio City has been thrown into turmoil following a pair of preliminary decisions by Los Angeles city zoning officials. The rulings, which have not yet been formally issued by the Planning Department, would deny a proposed supermarket and pharmacy from operating 24 hours a day on the site. The pharmacy also would be forbidden from operating a drive-through window. If made final, those decisions could throw a wrench into plans by the development’s anchor tenant, Ralphs Grocery Co., which has signed a 55,000-square-foot lease, and Rite Aid Corp., which is negotiating a lease at the 100,000-square-foot location currently the site of The Racquet Center at the intersection of Ventura Boulevard and Vineland Avenue. “It could stop the deal,” said Tom VonDerAhe Sr., a partner with VDA Property Co., which is developing the shopping center. The latest developments emerged at a community meeting with zoning administrators late last month. Resident groups at the hearing argued that a 24-hour retail operation would have a negative impact on the residential community that surrounds the site. They also protested a request for a drive-through window, saying it would generate additional noise and traffic, said Tony Lucente, president of the Studio City Residents Association. Leonard Levine, the associate zoning administrator handling the development, issued a preliminary decision allowing the stores to stay open until midnight, but denying 24-hour use for the site. He also will have to determine whether Rite-Aid’s request for a drive-through window violates an ordinance that prohibits such businesses in the area. Levine would not comment until his formal ruling is handed down, some time in the next two weeks. The ruling on the 24-hour issue came as a surprise to VonDerAhe and to representatives of L.A. City Councilman John Ferraro, in whose district the site lies. VonDerAhe and Ferraro’s aides said they had assumed that any supermarket would have the option of remaining open for 24 hours if the business warranted. “We have no opposition to Ralphs being open 24 hours,” said Renee Weitzer, chief field deputy and planning deputy to Ferraro. “All markets in the area are open 24 hours.” Calling the ruling on 24-hour use “arbitrary and capricious,” VonDerAhe said the company will appeal it if it stands in the final version. “I think the city is on real rocky footing to start putting in restrictions like that,” he said. “If it goes to court, we would win. It might delay the project, but it won’t stop it.” Barring a decision by Ralphs to pull out of the center, VonDerAhe said he plans to proceed with the development. However, the proximity of the center to three residential complexes could provide sufficient reason for the city to deny the permit to operate 24 hours a day, according to Thomas Rath, a city planning associate on the project. “The city has lots of restrictions on 24-hour operations. They might win, but it wouldn’t be automatic,” he said. The request for a drive-through window poses a different sort of problem, according to officials close to the development. Because there already is a zoning restriction against such facilities, developers may be required to ask for a change in zoning to go forward with that portion of the plan. “The site plan can’t be changed that easily,” said Weitzer. “People generally don’t want drive-throughs.” A Rite Aid official, who said he had not been briefed on the latest hearing, expressed surprise that the drive-through might require a zoning change. “I would be concerned if we did not have the ability to have our drive-through,” said Greg Vena, real estate director of Rite Aid Corp. “We’d have to make the call as to whether we would proceed further.” Vena said that he was under the impression that city officials had cleared the way for the drive-through. He said that in other communities, the store has been able to win approval for drive-through windows because the impact is less severe than at fast-food restaurants, where more cars tend to line up for service than at a pharmacy. “But if the community doesn’t want it, we’ve got to listen to those wishes,” he said. The recent setbacks are the latest in a three-year effort to bring a shopping center to the property. The Racquet Centre, which has occupied the site for more than 20 years, is an institution in the neighborhood, but it has been steadily losing business to fitness centers that offer a wider variety of activities. As a result, the owners, a partnership between the Hayden family and VDA Investments, began working on a plan to replace it with a shopping center by September 1999. As proposed, the new development would house six or seven shops on the ground level and a restaurant on a second level. The development also will feature a two-level parking structure. The developers have already gone through a grueling process to change the zoning to allow for a shopping center, they said, and they were frustrated by this latest development. “We’ve gone along with everything they’ve asked for,” said VonDerAhe, referring to requests to widen Ventura Boulevard to alleviate potential traffic problems and reduce the size of the center. “And yet at every hearing, they are complaining.” The dispute is the second recent confrontation between the Studio City Residents Association and Ralphs. Earlier this year, the group protested the merger of Ralphs with Hughes Markets, claiming it created a monopoly. Such complaints led to a ruling by the state Attorney General’s Office requiring the supermarket company to divest of some of its stores.

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