Phoenicia Restaurant in Glendale

Phoenicia Restaurant in Glendale on Wednesday, June 4, 2014. The restaurant, owned by a city commissioner, operated for months without a certificate of occupancy permit and officials did nothing about it, even when a resident called the police to complain. The restaurant is also at the center of a controversy over permitted parking with residents on Lexington Avenue. (Tim Berger / Staff Photographer / June 5, 2014)

For neighbors of Phoenicia, a popular Lebanese restaurant owned by a city commissioner, the eatery's large-scale expansion has caused noise and parking headaches, but their biggest complaint lately has been the appearance of special treatment.

When Rima Hagopian, a longtime resident who, along with others, has been fighting for 24-hour permit parking on Lexington Avenue near the restaurant, discovered the establishment had been denied a temporary permit to occupy a newly constructed indoor-outdoor room on April 4, she called police to block use of the expansion the following day.

But they didn't. Without a temporary permit, a building is not to be occupied. If it is, a code enforcement case is supposed to be initiated, said Jan Edwards, the city's interim building official.

On April 11, Phoenicia received its temporary certificate of occupancy as it made appropriate fixes, including receiving permission from the Los Angeles County Public Health Department to operate, Edwards said. The restaurant owner, City Commissioner Ara Kalfayan, had been using the contested outdoor space for months before that, though he said he did not initially realize he needed a new permit for the expansion.

Hagopian said she's troubled the city didn't follow its own procedures, adding that she believes Kalfayan was given preferential treatment because he is on the Parks, Recreation and Community Services Commission.

"How he got away with it is the question here," Hagopian said.

But Dan Bell, Glendale's community relations manager, said city officials worked closely with Kalfayan to get him into compliance and the quick permit turnaround was because Kalfayan only had to make minor fixes, such as slightly moving a sun shade.

"It's not special treatment," Bell said. "We're business friendly, but we don't break our own rules."

Kalfayan said Hagopian was trying to smear his business because the Transportation and Parking Commission denied residents' request to make the 300 block of West Lexington Drive permitted street parking all day.

Neighbors during the parking commission meeting in March complained that the restaurant's expansion prompted more diners to clog public streets, avoiding Phoenicia's valet. The restaurant was allowed to have fewer parking spaces than required because of its valet space.

Kalfayan said he can't force his customers to use the valet service, but he also wouldn't be opposed to longer permitted parking. He said he feels neighbors are taking their frustration out on him, even though it was the city commission that denied their permitted parking request.

About 84% of the block, or 122 residents, want the change to 24-hour permitted parking, according to a city report. The block currently has preferential parking from 9 a.m. to 6 p.m., meaning nonresidents can only park for two hours during that time period. The parking commission agreed to extend the timeline from 6 a.m. to 10 p.m.

Residents say that's not enough, though, and appealed the lower-level commission's decision to the City Council. This week the council decided it would consider the appeal at a later date, and the extended hours have been placed on hold until that decision is reached.

Meanwhile, residents said at the council meeting that they were shocked to see that while their initial request was denied, the city last week installed signs marking two spots on Lexington Drive as 30-minute parking zones, at Phoenicia's request, for customers picking up to-go packages or using the valet.

"We want it to be fair," resident Sarineh Ayvazi told the council.

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Follow Brittany Levine on Google+ and on Twitter: @brittanylevine.

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