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UNIVERSAL PROJECT TO HAVE SIGNIFICANT IMPACT, STUDY FINDS.

Byline: Douglas Haberman Daily News Staff Writer

An ambitious expansion of Universal Studios would create more air pollution, traffic and signs despite all efforts to minimize those problems for residents of nearby homes, according to an environmental impact report released Thursday.

The draft environmental impact report and a revised preliminary specific plan, the documents that will guide growth at Universal Studios, were prepared by Los Angeles County planners and issued for public review.

Universal officials plan to seek waivers from restrictions on traffic, pollution and other environmental impacts.

``We believe the project strikes a good balance between neighborhood protection and Universal's business interests,'' said Helen McCann, Universal's vice president in charge of the master plan.

No representative of homeowner groups contacted Thursday had seen the revised specific plan and the environmental report, but some said they will continue to oppose the project, expected to cost more than $1 billion, unless further measures are taken to reduce or eliminate its impacts.

``We have concerns about putting `Disneyland' in the middle of a very congested area,'' said Florence Blecher, president of the Cahuenga Pass Property Owners Association, representing about 1,500 property owners.

The plan

Universal wants to add 3.25 million square feet of floor space over 15 years for entertainment, film production, offices, hotel and other uses on its 415-acre site, where facilities already provide 5.4 million square feet.

Because the property is in the city of Los Angeles and unincorporated county area, Universal will need approval from both the city and county if the development goes forward.

If environmental effects cannot be reduced to an acceptable level, the county Board of Supervisors and the City Council would be asked to find the project's benefits outweigh the adverse effects.

Spokesmen for Supervisor Zev Yaroslavsky and council President John Ferraro, who represent Universal City, did not return phone calls seeking comment.

``The question of whether they should be allowed to expand should be based on whether they can mitigate the effects of their expansion,'' said Polly Ward, vice president of the Studio City Residents Association.

Traffic woes

A 44 percent cutback in the expansion proposal and plans to spend millions of dollars on street improvements have reduced predictable problems, especially traffic congestion, according to the environmental report.

Even so, the report says traffic would remain a major issue at the intersection of a proposed on-ramp for the northbound Hollywood Freeway and a street that will lead to an MTA subway station that is now being built.

``There's going to be some backup there,'' said Frank Meneses, supervising regional planner for the Los Angeles County Planning Department.

The problem would be worst whenever a large stream of traffic left Universal Studios, he said.

As a condition of approval, the county Regional Planning Commission will require Universal to study the feasibility of an on-ramp onto the southbound Hollywood Freeway. McCann said the Los Angeles Department of Transportation and the county Department of Public Works call the on-ramp unnecessary, but Universal will do the study.

Ward said she remains concerned that the expansion plans don't include an on-ramp directly from Universal Studios to the southbound freeway lanes. Without it, she said, southbound traffic from the complex still would have to use Cahuenga Boulevard.

``Until you get that traffic off the surface streets and onto the 101, you have not mitigated the traffic impacts,'' said Ward.

Universal believes it has solved a key problem: noise.

A ``sound zones'' proposal, to keep Universal's noisiest activities farthest from neighbors' property, will work, McCann said.

``We can engineer to a standard and demonstrate we're meeting that standard,'' said McCann. ``It doesn't mean nobody's going to hear anything, but it does mean the noise will be controlled.''

The specific plan includes a provision for an independent sound consultant to monitor sound levels on four randomly selected occasions each year.

City officials also are recommending restrictions on the times for noisy activities, such as pyrotechnics and outdoor music, on the back lot in the eastern section of the property.

Universal's McCann said the latest documents contain no surprises.

``There are no new impacts,'' she said. ``There are no surprises. Every question has been answered.''

Expansion as large as Universal is proposing is sure to create lots of traffic, homeowners representatives said.

Blecher said any development should occur in phases tied to benchmarks showing whether Universal is fulfilling obligations to the surrounding community.

The specific plan calls for an annual report to the city and county, an annual workshop and an annual public hearing, conducted by the city Planning Commission, to monitor compliance, said Larry Friedman, the city Planning Department's hearing officer for this project.

The county Regional Planning Commission and Friedman are scheduled to hold a public meeting at 9 a.m. Oct. 7 at the county Hall of Records, 320 W. Temple Street, Room 150.

There will be no public comment taken, however. Almost a dozen public hearings already have been held on the project.

The public will get another chance to comment when the environmental report and the specific plan come before the Board of Supervisors and the City Council. No date has been set for those hearings.

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Map: Universal City noise plan

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Publication:Daily News (Los Angeles, CA)
Date:Sep 11, 1998
Words:871
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