Larkspur cinema is closing and could be replaced with apartments

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Marin County has lost another movie theater at Century Larkspur Landing, but city officials are viewing the property as a potential residential redevelopment opportunity.

Cinemark, the theater chain’s Texas-based parent company, confirmed this week that the four-screen venue at 500 Larkspur Landing Circle closed permanently at the end of its lease in September. In an email, a company spokesman said the closure was the “normal course of business and the result of a careful and ongoing review” of its cinemas.

The property is owned by Syufy Enterprises, a San Rafael company that also owns the Peacock Gap golf course, Tomatina restaurants, the VillaSport health club chain, and other companies.

A company representative could not be reached for comment.

It’s unclear what the future holds for the property, but the 1.57-acre site will be enlarged for residential development. The property has been placed on the city’s housing development inventory, a list of lots that officials have identified as suitable for potential housing development, said Elise Semonian, the city’s community development director.

The city must add 979 new homes in the 2023-2031 federally mandated housing cycle, a 642% increase over the 2015-2023 mandate, Semonian said. The draft site inventory will be incorporated into the draft housing element update, which is expected to be released for public review later this month, Semonian said. The final residential element is expected to be approved by the end of January.

The theater building is close to the Sonoma-Marin Area Rail station, the Golden Gate ferry terminal, bus stops, extensive bicycle and walking routes, and the Marin Country Mart shopping center. The Larkspur Landing area in general is ideal for new housing developments due to its proximity to transit, which promotes a car-free lifestyle, Semonian said.

According to city documents, the theater site could house up to 54 new homes and more than 250 new homes if adjacent lots at 700, 900 and 1100 Larkspur Landing Circle that share a parking lot with the theater are also redeveloped.

State and local guidelines have also prompted city planners to look for redevelopment opportunities at Larkspur Landing, Semonian said.

State legislation has barred cities from enacting parking requirements within half a mile of public transit, although developers can still choose to include parking lots, Semonian said.

In addition, the Metropolitan Transportation Commission has adopted a “passage-oriented community policy” that cities must follow in order to obtain transportation. This policy includes a minimum density of 25 homes per acre in the Larkspur Landing area. Existing zoning allows for 21 homes per acre, Semonian said.

“The planning of housing at Larkspur Landing is consistent with city, state and regional goals to reduce greenhouse gas emissions through land use planning,” Semonian said.

Other properties in the area included in the draft housing inventory include Marin Country Mart and the 20-acre site of the former sewage treatment plant at Larkspur Landing Circle of 2000.

Jim Rosenfield, owner of the Marin Country Mart, declined to comment on the theater’s closure. However, he said that when asked by the city, he agreed that his property could be counted on the draft inventory.

“We have no plans to develop housing, but that doesn’t mean we would rule it out if it makes sense if there’s a viable plan,” Rosenfield said.

The closure of the Larkpsur Theater comes two years after the closure of the single-screen Corte Madera Theater, also a Cinemark venue, on Tamal Vista Boulevard. This location is also being considered for accommodation in the Corte Madera residential element.

The Cinemark closures are changing the theater landscape in Marin, local nonprofit cinema operators said.

“Total sadness,” said Ellie Mednick, executive director of the Lark Theatre, the single-screen Art Deco venue on Magnolia Avenue.

Mednick said she found out about the closure online after the fact.

“For us in the film business, the more theaters the better – we don’t see them as competition,” she said.

Ken Broad, CEO of the California Film Institute in San Rafael, said the closure was “only a matter of time” because of streaming services like Netflix.

“With the closure of the Corte Madera Theater, 2,000 seats and five screens are gone,” Broad said.

Larkspur Deputy Mayor Gabe Paulson called the closure “a loss to the community.”

However, Paulson said the transportation, bicycle and pedestrian network at Larkspur Landing is inviting for developers.

“I don’t know if there’s another place in Marin that has this knot,” Paulson said. “It really makes sense to live there.”

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