Construction of a proposed nine-story office complex in Glendale's downtown financial district would increase traffic sharply, whether or not it includes a controversial drive-through fast-food restaurant, an independent study said this week.
City officials have been lukewarm about a developer's proposal to replace the popular McDonald's restaurant at 500 N. Central Ave. with an even larger McDonald's on the ground floor of a proposed office and theater complex at the same site.
But an environmental impact report suggests that traffic congestion resulting from the development would be only "slightly less" if the restaurant were eliminated.
In a public hearing Tuesday, members of the Glendale Redevelopment Agency asked consultants to propose other ways to reduce congestion, such as assigning police officers to direct traffic during peak hours.
Moses Wilson of Barton-Aschman Associates of Pasadena, a city consultant, pledged to include the most innovative alternatives for reducing congestion before the agency is asked to accept a final environmental impact report on the project May 9.
The Howard-Platz Group of Glendale plans to build the world's first drive-through fast-food restaurant in a high-rise office complex. McDonald's officials predict that the conversion to high-rise development could start an international trend in the drive-through fast-food industry, which has accumulated expensive land holdings in areas that are rapidly being urbanized.
At present, McDonald's owns a portion of the Howard-Platz development site on the north side of Milford Street between Central Avenue and Orange Street.
The new McDonald's would be on the ground floor of a nine-story building on Central. A separate three-story, 1,600-seat multiscreen theater complex would be on Orange. An underground parking garage would be built under and between the two buildings.
Douglas Ring, an attorney representing McDonald's, told Glendale officials more than a year ago that the project "could serve as the prototype" for fast-food restaurants worldwide.
Jerold Milner, outgoing chairman of the Redevelopment Agency, in December called the proposal "a brand new concept" and added, "That makes some of us uncomfortable. What do we do if it doesn't work?"
Environmental Science Associates of Los Angeles, which analyzed the impact of the project, concluded that elimination of the drive-through restaurant would still "result in similar levels" of traffic congestion at the office site, which is expected to provide 490 new jobs. The report suggested that the city institute ride-sharing, staggered work hours and other transportation management programs to compensate for predicted congestion.
Although no action was taken at the hearing Tuesday, Glendale officials said in December that they were growing increasingly wary of projects that threaten to increase congestion. Milner said then: "We are taking a closer and more critical view of everything that relates to vehicles in the downtown area and throughout the city. We are becoming more sensitive."
Councilman Larry Zarian, new chairman of the Redevelopment Agency, said Tuesday that potential congestion in the city will be a major factor in approving new projects. "Traffic is going to dictate the future development in the city," he said. "Every decision made here is going to impact the future of Glendale." He warned that the agency "may have to say no" to developers if their projects pose unworkable problems.