Larkspur cinema is closing and housing could replace it

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

Cinemark, the parent company of the Texas-based theater chain, confirmed this week that the four-screen venue at 500 Larkspur Landing Circle has closed permanently when its lease ends in September. In an email, a spokesperson for the company said the closure was the “normal course of business and the result of continued careful review” of its theaters.

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 businesses.

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 is being sized for housing. The property has been included in the city’s draft Housing Element Site Inventory, a list of parcels that officials have identified as suitable for potential residential development, said Elise Semonian, director of community development for the town.

The city is set to accommodate 979 new residences in the state-mandated 2023-2031 housing cycle, a 642% increase from the 2015-2023 mandate, Semonian said. The draft site inventory will be included in the draft housing element update that is expected to be released for public review later this month, Semonian said. The final housing element must be approved by the end of January.

The theater property is close to the Sonoma-Marin Area Rail Transit stop, the Golden Gate Ferry terminal, bus stops, an extensive bicycle and pedestrian network, and the Marin Country Mart shopping center. The Larkspur Landing area is generally ideal for new housing development due to its proximity to public transport, which promotes a car-free lifestyle, Semonian said.

According to city documents, the site of the theater could accommodate up to 54 new residences and more than 250 new homes if neighboring properties at 700, 900 and 1100 Larkspur Landing Circle, which share parking with the theater, are also redeveloped .

National and regional guidelines have also led city planners to look to Larkspur Landing for redevelopment opportunities, Semonian said.

State law has prohibited cities from imposing parking requirements within half a mile of public transportation, though developers can still choose to include parking, Semonian said.

Additionally, the Metropolitan Transportation Commission has adopted a “Travel-Oriented Communities Policy” that cities must follow in order to receive transportation funding. This policy includes a minimum density of 25 residences per acre in the Larkspur Landing area. Existing zoning allows 21 homes per acre, Semonian said.

“Housing planning at Larkspur Landing aligns with city, state and regional goals to reduce greenhouse gas emissions through land use planning,” Semonian said.

Other properties in the area that are included in the interim housing inventory are Marin Country Mart and the 10.7-acre former sewage treatment plant site at 2000 Larkspur Landing Circle.

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

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

The closure of the Larkpsur Theater comes two years after the closure of the single-screen Corte Madera Theatre, also a Cinemark venue, on Tamal Vista Boulevard. This site is also being considered for housing in the Corte Madera housing unit.

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

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

Mednick said he heard about the shutdown online after the fact.

“For us in the movie industry, the more theaters the better – we don’t see them as competitors,” she said.

Ken Broad, chairman of the California Film Institute in San Rafael, said the shutdown “was only a matter of time” due to streaming services like Netflix.

“With the Corte Madera Theater closing, that’s 2,000 seats and five screens gone,” Broad said.

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

However, Paulson said the transport, bicycle and pedestrian network at Larkspur Landing is attractive to developers.

“I don’t know if there’s any other place in Marin that has this knot,” Paulson said. “It really makes sense for housing there.”

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