County planners say they are close to working out final details for the first multiscreen movie house in Ellicott City, across U.S. 40 from the Enchanted Forest theme park.
Plans show the theater would have six screens in a two-story, 16,450-square-foot building on a 5-acre lot just west of the Forest Motel and Forest Diner.
Jeffrey Pechter, vice president of JHP Development and part owner of the property with his father, Jack, estimated that the theater would open in 1 1/2 years.
That would be after the year-delayed opening of the revived Enchanted Forest theme park. The fairy tale theme park, which opened as a regional attraction 38 years ago, was to have been renovated and reopened this month.
"We underestimated the amount of work it would take to restore these buildings, many of which were built in 1954," said the younger Pechter. As a result, the opening is planned for next June.
The Pechters opened a new 136,000-square-foot local shopping center on the Enchanted Forest site in March. On July 15, they plan to open an entertainment center called the Family Funjungle, which includes a two-story maze for both adults and children.
Across U.S. 40 from the 32-acre Enchanted Forest, the Pechters had originally planned a bank and overflow parking for the theme park and shopping center. They submitted plans for the multiplex theater instead.
Last week, Jack Pechter said he couldn't say who would be running the theater, and that his company had yet to close a deal with an operator.
County planners were initially concerned there would not be enough parking for theater patrons and Enchanted Forest visitors, according to site development documents. But further information on existing theaters showed that matinee performances would not generate enough traffic to interfere with the expected visitors to the daytime theme park.
"We feel comfortable with the calculations that they've done, and we feel these uses can co-exist," said Elmina Hilsenrath, chief of the county's Community Planning and Land Development division.
The developers have been asked to submit a revised site plan to correct technical problems, Hilsenrath said. Once it is resubmitted, it will take about 60 days for a final decision from the Department of Planning and Zoning.