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Restaurant’s use debated in court

Owner of Montrose Collection says it wasn’t properly advised by the city regarding changes.

September 26, 2008|By Jeremy Oberstein

GLENDALE — The city’s former planning director told a four-man, six-woman jury in Glendale Superior Court on Thursday that the owners of the Montrose Collection restaurant illegally expanded beyond existing regulations against banquet halls.

The expansion came after verbal warnings from city officials that such growth defied the Glendale Municipal Code, said Elaine Wilkerson, who led the Glendale Planning Department for five years until her retirement in 2006.

Wilkerson told the jury Thursday, the first day of the proceedings, that she and other city officials warned restaurant owner Arman Aivazian and his associate.

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Aivazian and his wife, Takui, stand accused of operating their restaurant as an illegal banquet hall on at least one occasion after they expanded the site by 1,210 square feet in 2005.

Glendale officials, led by Deputy City Atty. Dorine Martirosian, contend that the Honolulu Avenue restaurant was used for a private party on at least one occasion despite a 2002 city code prohibiting restaurants from using 30% or more of their dining area for private functions.

Buildings zoned before 2002 are exempt if they do not change their use.

The Montrose Collection in 2005 moved into a site built before the 2002 ordinance that was zoned as a full-service restaurant, but when it expanded the building upon moving in, officials said it lost its right to operate as a banquet hall.

The city enacted the rule in 2002 due to concerns from neighbors that a banquet hall’s “more intense use” compared with restaurants could result in a crush of cars to a single location that could severely impact the region, Principal City Planner Howard Malis said.

Malis, surrounded by several floor plans on the witness stand, told jurors of the various stages of development — from the restaurant’s inception in 2005, its expansion and use in 2007 as a banquet hall.

“I saw there were potential zoning and land-use issues,” he said. “I didn’t outright reject [the plans], but I know there were issues.”

Malis said he did not have any direct conversations with the Aivazians about the discrepancies, and defense attorney Michael Levin told jurors Thursday that the city “misled” the Aivazians.

“The city of Glendale took a position where they did not advise my clients that they would be subject to a change in the rules,” Levin said during opening statements.

Though Wilkerson said she told restaurant owners of the change in rules, she did not issue a written statement, contending that one was not necessary due to promises the Aivazians had made.

“They assured us it would remain a full-service restaurant,” she said.

The trial is expected to resume today in Glendale Superior Court.


 JEREMY OBERSTEIN covers business, politics and the foothills. He may be reached at (818) 637-3215 or by e-mail at jeremy.oberstein@latimes.com.

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