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Neighbors Raise Questions About Disney's Development Plan

Glendale: Business leaders hail project, but residents are concerned about impact.

September 05, 2000|ANDREW BLANKSTEIN | TIMES STAFF WRITER

Walt Disney Co.'s planned creative campus has drawn rave reviews from business and civic leaders who predict that the project will add property value and luster to an industrial zone now dominated by drab warehouses and factories.

The reaction has been less enthusiastic from neighbors, who are expected to raise questions about the $2-billion development on 125 acres near Interstate 5.

Since the release of a four-volume, 2,000-plus page draft environmental impact report July 6, some Glendale residents have complained that city officials have spent more time praising Disney than asking pointed questions about everything from seismic safety to potentially dangerous chemicals buried beneath the site.

"I don't think there's real opposition to the project per se," said Rob Sharkey, a past president of the Glendale homeowners coordinating council. "However, there's a lot of concern about the impacts contained in the [report], and people feel cornered by what appears to be a rush to approve this project."

Sharkey and other residents are expected to attend today's Glendale City Council meeting to comment beginning at 3:30 p.m. The council meets at City Hall, 613 E. Broadway. Because the site is in a city redevelopment area, the council will be acting under its authority as head of the redevelopment agency.

Glendale City Councilwoman Ginger Bremberg dismissed the notion that the city was rushing to approve the project. The council approved, over Bremberg's opposition, a measure to extend the public comment period to 60 days. Bremberg said the original 45-day period was sufficient.

"City officials have praised Disney for their openness and willingness to meet with any group at any time at any place," Bremberg said. "They've done that repeatedly, and they've incorporated suggestions into their document."

Since releasing details of the proposed campus a year ago, Disney executives have sought to paint a picture of a neighborhood-friendly development that will consist of four distinctive areas blending green spaces and four- to six-story buildings.

Specifics call for 3.6 million square feet of offices, sound stages and studio production facilities on the site. Disney owns 2.4 million square feet at the site, which is bordered by Western Avenue, Flower Street, Air Way and the Golden State Freeway.

The site has been a business park since the early 1960s. From 1928 through 1959, it was the site of the Grand Central Air Terminal. The original passenger terminal building and tower are still on the site, and Disney plans to convert them into a visitors center.

The anchor of the site would be Walt Disney Imagineering, the research and development arm of the company that designs theme park rides and other attractions.

Currently, 5,000 people work in the Grand Central Business Park, most of them Disney employees. In the report, Disney estimated that an additional 7,844 workers could be added with the new construction over the next 20 years.

Disney executives downplayed the potential impact of the project, which would be addressed through increased on-site parking, phased construction, improvements to freeway exits and local intersections as well as height restrictions on buildings near residences.

According to documents filed with the city last year, zoning allows Disney to construct office towers up to 10 stories.

Sharkey and others say they intend to highlight environmental safety, traffic and building heights when the Glendale Redevelopment Agency holds hearings on the creative campus report.

In addition, some state agencies say consultants for the Disney report may need a more complete accounting of issues, including seismic hazards and chemical contamination.

In a letter to the Glendale Redevelopment Agency, officials with the state division of mines and geology questioned the analysis Disney used to determine ground shaking during an earthquake, saying their review did not adequately address issues of liquefaction.

"They determined a lower level of seismic shaking we feel is appropriate for the site," David Beeby, of the state division of mines and geology, said of the report.

Also raising questions with the draft report was the state Department of Toxic Substances Control. Spokesman Ted Yargeau said that state officials were still reviewing the document and that additional mitigation could be necessary.

Ed Chuchla, development director of Disney's Imagineering division, said the company had been addressing community concerns from the onset and would continue its outreach efforts, exchange of information and to answer questions about the project.

"This is exactly how the process moves forward."

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