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Development Would Worsen Traffic in Fairfax Area : New Study Released on Farmers Market Project

Times Staff Writer

A massive new development at Farmers Market would worsen traffic congestion in the Fairfax District despite measures proposed by the city’s Department of Transportation, a draft environmental impact report said Thursday.

In response to the latest report, A. F. Gilmore Co., the owner and developer, said it is “committed to the exploration of all feasible traffic-mitigation measures” in the area of its 31-acre site at the corner of 3rd Street and Fairfax Avenue.

The company said it expects to spend $20 million toward that end: $1 million for a computerized traffic signal system, new signals and right-turn lanes; $2.5 million to encourage workers at the site to commute by car pools and public transportation, and $17 million in traffic-mitigation fees required by the city for long-term improvements.

For its part, the city has proposed widening Fairfax Avenue, installing traffic signals at several intersections, and computerizing traffic control to mitigate traffic.

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But, the environmental impact report concluded, traffic generated by the shopping mall, theaters, hotel, office tower and residential apartments proposed for the site would result in “significant impacts” at six of 11 major intersections even after the initial mitigation measures are in place.

Methane Deposits

The report cited other likely environmental impacts, including possible disturbance of underground methane deposits, but it said they could all be mitigated except for the substantial increase in traffic and a small increase in smog.

Farmers Market is just across 3rd Street from the Ross Dress For Less shop, where an underground pocket of methane exploded in 1985. The report said the new buildings should include vents to prevent such dangerous buildups.

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“The generated traffic is very, very substantial, no one’s denying that,” said David Weintraub, a city planner who oversaw the environmental impact report.

“With all the things they’re going to do, they can fix most of it, but there’s going to be trouble at those particular intersections,” Weintraub said.

The draft report, to be rewritten after a 70-day period of public input, was prepared at the expense of the A. F. Gilmore Co., which traces its ownership of the land back to 1880.

Once part of the Mexican-era Rancho La Brea, the land was used over the years for a dairy, an oil field, a bank, a gas station, a baseball park and a drive-in theater.

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The corner of Fairfax Avenue and 3rd Street became an outlet for San Fernando Valley produce farmers in 1934, and the market has since become a tourist attraction.

The latest plans are the first to cover the entire property, one of the largest undeveloped areas on the Westside.

A spokesman for City Councilman John Ferraro, whose district includes Farmers Market, said it was too early for Ferraro to make a final decision on the proposal, which calls for 2 million square feet of development.

“If it does not over-congest the area, he’ll support it,” the spokesman said.

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According to the environmental impact report, more than half of the 11 nearby intersections are already filled to what is supposed to be their maximum capacity during the evening rush hour. Three of them carry even more cars than they are designed for.

But 3,395 additional trips can be expected during a typical evening rush hour if the Farmers Market project goes ahead as planned, the report said.

Steps Fall Short

The steps proposed by the Transportation Department would improve the flow of traffic at five intersections, but no improvements are possible at three other corners, and mitigation measures would fall short at the remaining three, the study found.

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The city’s recommendations include a new lane of traffic between 3rd Street and Beverly Boulevard on Fairfax Avenue, which would allow the installation of a right-turn lane at the Beverly Boulevard intersection.

New traffic signals would be installed at the intersections of Beverly Boulevard and Stanley Avenue, and at the 3rd Street and Fairfax Avenue entrances to the project.

The developer would also help pay for a computerized traffic-control program that the city hopes to introduce in much of the Westside.

Pat Gibson, a transportation planner hired by the Gilmore Co., said other things could be done to improve the traffic flow, but they were excluded from the environmental impact report.

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For example, the $17 million the company expects to be required to pay to the city’s Traffic Mitigation Fund could go to buy property that would be used to widen existing streets, he said.

“We’d have to buy right of way, and since that’s not directly under the control of the developer, the city won’t let you put that in as a mitigation measure,” he said.

The report quoted city traffic engineers as saying the likelihood of such land buys was “extremely limited . . . or not feasible altogether.”

The Farmers Market project has been in the works for at least five years, but the release of the environmental impact report revealed more details about it than had been available before.

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Tower Would Be Shifted

Plans call for the original food courts at the corner of 3rd Street and Fairfax Avenue to remain, whereas newer buildings, including one that is topped by the tower that is the symbol of Farmers Market, would be removed.

Hank Hilty, president of the Gilmore Co., said the tower would probably be erected somewhere else on the property. “It’s kind of our image,” he told a community group Wednesday night.

The Gilmore Adobe, built in 1852, would be converted into a restaurant.

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Other plans include new shops along Fairfax, a retail complex of 1 million square feet, with landscaped atriums, theaters and restaurants, a hotel with up to 600 rooms, an office building of about 225,000 square feet and a 150-unit residential complex adjoining Pan Pacific Park.

Hilty said the hotel and office towers would be placed away from the street to minimize the impact of the project on the neighborhood. He also said the development falls within the limits imposed by the slow-growth Proposition U initiative, which was passed in 1986.

But public protests are expected during the 70 days that are available for citizen input before the final report is drawn up.

Diana Plotkin, vice president of the Beverly-Wilshire Homeowners Assn., called the development “just too large for the 30 acres it sits on.”

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She recalled that city officials were talking about a development of no more than 1 million square feet at the site several years ago, when a Metro Rail station was planned for Fairfax Avenue. At that time the adjacent CBS property was also part of the proposal.

Called ‘Ludicrous’

“So to ask for 2 million square feet on 30-some acres, without a rail system, is ludicrous, for lack of a better word,” she said. “The infrastructure just couldn’t handle the kind of traffic this project would bring in.”

After the final report is submitted, the developer would need approval from various city agencies before the project could begin.

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Approval may be delayed because other projects have also been proposed for the area, including a 650,000-square-foot retail development owned by the company that controls the nearby Park Labrea apartment complex.

Hilty said that if all goes well he hopes to see construction begin in the summer of 1990, with completion of the first phase in 1993 and the second phase in 1994.


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