PLEASANT HILL -- Barring legal action, the dome movie theater in Pleasant Hill will be torn down to make way for a sporting goods store.
Council members David Durant, Tim Flaherty and Jack Weir voted early Tuesday to approve a plan to redevelop the southern half of the Crossroads Shopping Center. Mayor Michael Harris and Councilman Ken Carlson, who cast the dissenting votes, said they were disappointed with the quality of the project.
"I'm still not fully convinced that we're getting the best that we can get here," said Carlson, who recounted cutting school to catch movies at the dome.
Earlier Monday, the Building Board of Appeals rejected a challenge to the demolition permit for the project. SyWest Development President Bill Vierra gave no indication of when the building will come down; the theater closed in late April and now sits empty.
The appellants haven't decided whether they will take their fight to the courts.
In March, the Planning Commission approved a development plan permit and conditional use permit for SyWest's proposal to raze the theater and build a two-story, 73,176-square-foot Dick's Sporting Goods store. The company also plans to renovate the adjacent 21,788-square-foot building that once housed the Bally Total Fitness Gym for an unnamed tenant.
News that the dome is slated for demolition inspired a Facebook page, an online petition, spirited rallies and weekend signature gathering events. In an appeal filed April 8, the group Save the Pleasant Hill Dome argued the city hadn't properly considered the 46-year-old movie theater's historical, cultural or landmark value. On Monday, the group urged the city to analyze the combined health effects of the SyWest project and the adjacent Buskirk Avenue roadwork. The city's environmental consultant said airborne contaminants from the two projects would be well below acceptable levels.
The crowd at the appeal hearing spilled from the council chambers into the lobby and a meeting room. During nearly three hours of testimony, dozens of speakers implored the council to preserve the theater and transform it into an arts center that could host film festivals and live performances.
"We see it as a cultural jewel in Pleasant Hill's crown," said Walnut Creek resident Martha Ross, who wrote the appeal.
The wrecking ball has loomed over the theater since at least 2003, when SyWest (known then as Syufy) and ICI Development were competing to develop the 20-acre shopping center. Both companies proposed razing the outdated building and replacing it with a sleek theater that still would screen independent films.
Eventually, the firms split the property -- ICI Development owns the northern part of the shopping center, anchored by Kohl's. In 2008, the developers settled a long-standing dispute over parking spaces and the terms of a 2004 agreement which established where within the shopping center each company can build.
But then the economy tanked and SyWest put its redevelopment plans on hold.
At the meeting, Weir described the tension of trying to balance private property rights with the strong emotional attachment many people have to the theater. Ultimately, he said, the city must treat everyone equally according to the rules.
"It would be patently unfair to retroactively impose a set of criteria on a developer that has been participating in the process," Weir said.
Lisa P. White covers Martinez and Pleasant Hill. Contact her at 925-943-8011. Follow her at Twitter.com/lisa_p_white.