Disneyland renovation plan gets environmental review

Walt Disney Co.’s long-term plan to upgrade and renovate its Anaheim theme park and resort has reached another milestone with the release of a report detailing how the project will affect the environment.

Anaheim on Sept. 14 released a 17,000-page environmental impact report for DisneylandForward, which aims to squeeze more attractions, shops and restaurants into the resort’s existing 490-acre footprint.

While the four-year construction phase will have significant but unavoidable impacts on noise pollution, air quality and greenhouse gas emissions in surrounding communities, it will not negatively impact transportation or neighborhood aesthetics, the report concluded.

To move forward with its plans, Disney must obtain approval from Anaheim to rezone various areas of the resort for mixed-use land development. An Environmental Impact Report is required for any new construction to ensure that Disneyland complies with the National Environmental Policy Act and the California Environmental Quality Act. The goal is to reveal a project’s potential impacts on the natural and human environment and efforts to mitigate them.

To date, Disneyland has not revealed any specific construction plans, but has cited Tokyo Disneyland’s Frozen Kingdom of Fantasy Springs and Shanghai Disneyland’s Zootopia-inspired expansion as examples. a “Avatar”-themed experience May also be part of the lineup.

“We can’t start designing at that level until we have guidance on what we can and can’t build,” Rachel Alde, vice president of development for Disney Resorts, said Thursday at a press reception at Disneyland headquarters.

The report, which was funded by Disney and commissioned by the city of Anaheim, analyzed 16 areas of potential impacts during construction and operation, including energy, water conservation, cultural resources, wildlife and greenhouse gas emissions.

According to Joe Haupt, chief executive of real estate development firm Spectrum Development Group, the report assumes a “worst-case scenario” of what could happen. An acoustic engineer, for example, spent two weeks in the park collecting sound profiles to model on a computer how design changes might affect noise pollution.

Disney cited key mitigation measures, including installing a 12-foot-tall sound barrier and banning aerial fireworks displays west of Disneyland Drive and in the Toy Story parking lot area. To address visual aesthetic concerns, Disneyland will implement a “360-degree architectural design” to improve public views from adjacent residential properties.

When Disneyland’s first environmental impact report was conducted 1993, greenhouse gas emissions estimates were not required under California law. Since then, Disney has taken steps to reduce the carbon footprint of park employee travel. Along with DisneylandForward, the park plans to invest in additional pedestrian bridges, another parking structure and a new transportation hub to ease congestion.

To address air quality issues, Disneyland said it plans to recycle demolition debris and use low-emission paint, among other mitigation efforts. Many of the necessary waste-reduction and energy-efficiency techniques are already in practice at Anaheim theme parks.

Proposed in 2021, the DisneylandForward company considers underdeveloped areas of the existing resort, specifically around the two Disney hotels west of the theme park and a parking lot east of the resort to build new attractions, shops, and eateries. The proposal does not expand the square footage of the park.

Existing zoning laws, drafted in 1990, specify which areas of the park can be designated for hotels, retail, dining and theme park attractions. Disney claims that for a more diverse and integrated experience that caters to the next generation of consumers, a portion of its land should be rezoned for mixed use. Anaheim’s law currently does not allow this. Only 46% of the park’s permitted 6.8 million square footage has been developed since 1990.

Disney made its economic case for the project in May. Every $1 billion Disney invests in redevelopment and updates Disneyland ResortAccording to a report commissioned by Cal State Fullerton’s Woods Center for Economic Analysis and Forecasting, the project would generate an estimated $253 million in economic output, $15 million in tax revenue and 2,292 jobs annually.

However, expanding the park could put pressure on local affordable housing options, said Bill Halligan, a consultant at Harris & Associates who previously worked on Anaheim’s environmental impact report.

“Any expansion of Disneyland will increase employment, which is a good thing. But the problems in California are related to housing affordability,” Halligan said. “How do you provide adequate housing for future employees?”

Many Disneyland workers who have struggled to make ends meet could soon be due for a wage increase. In July, a California appeals court ruled that Disneyland illegally avoided a living-wage law passed by Anaheim voters in 2018 that would have raised wages by about $20 an hour for resort workers.

The environmental report will now enter a 45-day public comment period until Oct. 30, after which the city will respond to comments and conduct a public information and hearing process. The first of two public workshops will be held Oct. 9 by the Anaheim Planning Commission. The Anaheim City Council will hold two additional public workshops before issuing a final report and holding hearings. Disney aims to have the project go before the council for a vote by the end of 2024.

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