A proposal to restrict automobile traffic in two blocks of Glendale's downtown redevelopment project met with surprise and skepticism this week from members of City Council.
In a presentation Tuesday to the council members, meeting as the city Redevelopment Agency, architect Andrew Feola of Glendale proposed that Maryland Avenue be narrowed to two traffic lanes with no parking between Broadway and Wilson Avenue. Feola said parking lanes on both sides of the street would be converted into wide sidewalks to encourage pedestrian traffic and to better link the two blocks between Brand Boulevard and Louise Street.
Feola presented the plan on behalf of two Glendale developers, the Howard/Platz Group and Glendale Brand Development.
The proposal was a surprise to the council members. They had previously agreed that the two-block area should be tied together with a 750-space, $8-million parking garage that the city plans to build on Maryland Avenue, but narrowing the avenue had not been publicly discussed before Tuesday.
On the contrary, traffic studies by the city concluded that Maryland should be widened and possibly converted to a one-way street to serve as a main artery to relieve traffic congestion on Brand Boulevard. Maryland now has two traffic lanes and two parking lanes.
Councilman John F. Day commented, "I am not happy with anything that restricts the traffic flow in downtown Glendale. . . . I would not be agreeable to restricting traffic in that block."
Councilman Carl Raggio, however, called the concept "kind of interesting."
Susan Shick, deputy director of redevelopment, said any proposal to restrict traffic on Maryland is premature. "I don't think there is a concept yet," she said. "We have to balance what the developer wants to do and what is best for the city."
The proposal was related to the agency's action Tuesday that approved the Howard/Platz Group as master developer of the block bounded north and south by Wilson Avenue and Broadway; east and west by Maryland Avenue and Brand Boulevard. The agency also approved Brand Development as master developer of the block directly east of this, bounded by Louise Street.
Master developers oversee renovation of buildings. If any property owner is unable to meet the city's renovation standards, or refuses to meet them, the master developer would be empowered to take control of the property and finish the project.
Both developers are experienced at renovating buildings in Glendale. Both have hired Feola, of the Feola-Deenihan Partnership Inc., as their architect.
The two blocks--now mainly lined with small shops and businesses, but also including a county welfare office and the Maryland Hotel--are expected to be among the last in downtown Glendale to be targeted for major high-rise redevelopment, which may not occur for 15 to 30 years.
In the meantime, developers and the Redevelopment Agency have proposed renovating existing buildings, many of which date from the 1920s. Several buildings already have undergone extensive reconstruction, including the $2-million renovation of the six-story Security Pacific building at 100 N. Brand Blvd., once the tallest building in Glendale.
City officials hope new construction could include a multiscreen, 1,600-seat movie theater at the southwest corner of Louise Street and Wilson Avenue, as well as new retail shops and restaurants on Maryland Avenue.
In the westernmost block of the two, bounded by Brand Boulevard on the west, the agency has proposed that a structure be built to serve as a retail arcade and pedestrian passageway between the planned parking garage on Maryland Avenue and Brand Boulevard. The passageway would also allow access to Maryland apart from the garage space. The arcade and passageways would replace buildings now occupied by seven businesses, from 128 to 136 N. Brand Blvd.
Although Feola conceded that he had not discussed his proposal to restrict traffic on Maryland with city officials, he said the concept is not new. A proposal to close Maryland south of Broadway for a major redevelopment was approved by the city several years ago, he noted. That project never materialized.
"Our thinking, along with developers, is that the two blocks become a single project," Feola said, referring to the two blocks north of Broadway. "In order to function as such, they need to be linked. Pedestrian traffic is a very important element of that project. The point we are trying to get across is to design a people place, to create that real comfortable environment."
Feola said the proposal is similar to renovation projects undertaken at Larimer Square in Denver, Quincy Marketplace in Boston and Georgetown Park in Washington. Those projects are considered among the most successful in the country, he said.