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Glendale's building boom troubles Caltrans

Cumulative impact on freeways isn't being taken into account, official says.

January 09, 2014|By Brittany Levine, brittany.levine@latimes.com
  • A construction project between Brand Blvd. and Orange Street in downtown Glendale where several properties are under development, many of them for apartments, on Wednesday, November 27, 2013.
A construction project between Brand Blvd. and Orange… (Tim Berger / Staff…)

Officials with the California Department of Transportation are worried that the massive development boom in Glendale may have significant impacts to nearby freeways that aren’t being addressed in environmental reviews for new projects.

The reviews tend to focus on traffic generated by an individual building, but don’t fully take into account the cumulative impact of other projects, said Elmer Alvarez, a project coordinator at Caltrans, which is responsible for highway planning, construction and maintenance.

For example, an environmental review of a 142-unit, mixed-use complex called the Link approved last month by the City Council stated that the 11,600-square-foot project wouldn’t have a significant traffic impact on the nearby Golden State (5) Freeway or Glendale (2) Freeway, but that analysis didn’t take into account the 21 other projects either recently built, under construction or in the planning stages in Glendale, Alvarez said.

“That one project, by itself, the traffic impact seems to be minimal, but when you add up what’s planned, then it might be significant, then it might be different,” he said. “Here, it’s already bad. Anything you add is significant.”

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Many nearby projects in the pipeline, including the $25-million Link planned for the corner of Central Avenue and San Fernando Road, don’t meet the 150-trip minimum required by state law for freeway impact analysis, according to a letter that Caltrans Branch Chief Dianna Watson sent to the city regarding the Link.

But if the projects were considered together, they may hit the threshold, Alvarez said.

There are roughly 3,800 units either constructed or in the pipeline for south Glendale, a development boom that followed a massive revamp of the city’s zoning in 2006 with the goal to move development from the city’s hillsides to downtown.

The plan was to transform a downtown blanketed with commercial properties into an area where people could live and work.

The rezoning, known as the Downtown Specific Plan, along with city impact fees that were purposefully set low to encourage development, worked, but now Caltrans officials are concerned about the potential transportation effects from future developments.

Although a handful of perennial City Hall critics have complained about traffic during the approval hearings for numerous projects, traffic concerns haven’t dominated City Council discussion.

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