The proposed IMAX theater won't be required to file an Environmental Impact Report.
Thursday, August 5, 1999
Everybody thinks it''s a great idea. Environmentalists, historians and developers alike see the proposed IMAX theater planned for Cannery Row as a positive addition to the community.
Even so, considering the potential impact the project could have on a sensitive area of town, some community members are mystified by the mitigated Negative Declaration filed by the Monterey Planning Department on July 23. A Negative Declaration, according to California Environmental Quality Act (CEQA) requirements, assumes that all impacts of a project can be mitigated, and that a full-blown Environmental Impact Report (EIR) is not required.
"The thing with the Neg Dec is that everything has to be mitigated to insignificant, and they certainly haven''t cured the traffic problems," says Janie Figen of the local Sierra Club chapter. "I think that this is a shot coming from Monterey. It needs more studies than they''ve done so far, that''s for sure."
The project includes a 500-seat large-format theater; 1,087-square-feet of retail; 2,088-square-feet of office space, and 2,000-square-feet of meeting space in a 48,070-square-foot structure located at 270 and 284 Cannery Row.
The buildings, owned by the Cannery Row Company, are the former sites of the Central Packing Co. and the Rhonda/Magnolia canneries adjacent to the Monterey Plaza Hotel, and are identified as potentially historic structures. Project plans call for the demolition of the two buildings except for the facades, which will be restored.
The treatment of the IMAX project by the Planning Department, say city watchers, is inconsistent with the city''s thorough environmental scrutiny of the proposed four-building, 230,000-square-foot Cannery Row Marketplace project just a block up Cannery Row.
"The IMAX needs to have an EIR," says coastal conservationist Barbara Bass Evans. "It has the same issues as the Marketplace in height, parking, and traffic. It''s too sensitive of an area. The IMAX is a nice idea, just in a bad spot."
But city Planning Director Bill Fell warns against comparing the two projects. "If there appear to be inconsistencies, there are reasons."
And city Traffic Engineer Rich Deal explains, at least as far as traffic impacts, the Marketplace EIR identified all potential impacts that might be created by the IMAX project, therefore eliminating the need for a separate EIR. "We pretty much know all the impacts from the Marketplace EIR," says Deal. "We would get no new information from another EIR."
Some of the inconsistencies development watchers point out are:
&bul; Based partly on a study of the CINEMAX theater on Pier 39 in San Francisco, the IMAX''s traffic study concludes that only 10 percent of visitors to the theater will create additional automobile trips, and assumes that most theater-goers will already be on Cannery Row for another purpose, such as visiting the Aquarium.
However, the Marketplace EIR concludes that a much higher number of visitors--75 percent--will be heading to Cannery Row for the sole purpose of visiting the Marketplace''s retail shops and restaurants, thus resulting in a much higher ratio of automobile trips. Using the Marketplace EIR, IMAX watchers project that a much higher number of automobile trips will be made to Cannery Row.
Both projects, agrees Fell, are expected to attract people to Cannery Row and also serve visitors already there. "The difference," he says, "is the magnitude. The Marketplace includes 115,000-square-feet of retail intended to be a destination."
&bul; The Marketplace EIR identifies impacts on the Washington Street/Del Monte Avenue intersection as a significant and unavoidable impact. But the IMAX traffic study concludes that impacts to the Washington/Del Monte intersection caused by the theater complex can be mitigated through impact fees paid to the WAVE shuttle bus.
Again, says Fell, the difference is that the Cannery Row Marketplace, with its various shops and restaurants, will be a bigger draw than the theater.
The Cannery Row Marketplace EIR states that "the combined impact of the project on the historic resources of the site and Cannery Row as a whole could reduce the ability of the city to establish a National Register of Historical Resources, or a local historic district." However, the IMAX Negative Declaration states that the project, very near to the Marketplace site on Cannery Row, is not within a historic zone.
That determination, says city Senior Planner Bruce Kibby, was made by the consultant who prepared the IMAX environmental study. The Negative Declaration, he points out, is subject to public input and commissioners'' recommendation as the project goes through the planning process.
Local historian Neal Hotelling says he isn''t too concerned about it because the developer, Jim McGillen of McGillen Enertainment, has shown sensitivity to the historical nature of Cannery Row.
"Jim has been going out of his way, and wants to do everything he can to communicate with the community and take their concerns into account," says Hotelling. "He is trying to build something that he thinks will be good for the community and beneficial to everybody."
Neverthless, says Figen, if she were developing the Cannery Row Marketplace, "I would get very cross with the city, to the point of talking to my attorney. They are not being even-handed."
The IMAX project is scheduled to appear before the Monterey Historic Preservation Commission Aug. 11 and the Planning Commission on Aug. 24. The Planning Commission has the option of requiring an EIR.