Burbank preschool expansion denied due to potential neighborhood impacts

The Planning Board on Monday denied the proposed expansion of a local preschool in a residential neighborhood, which had drawn concerns from neighbors about traffic and noise.

Burbank Temple Emanu El, a preschool and religious education center located in a residential zone at 1302 N. Glenoaks Blvd., had proposed expanding its facility by using a single-family home located next door at 407 Bethany Road for extra classroom space.

With the expansion, school officials could have accommodated an additional 24 students and four teachers, for a total of 84 students and 11 staff members. Temple members had cited a need to expand the facility after noticing "a huge increase in the demand" for the preschool.

But at a meeting last month, at which the board continued the item, neighbors who live on Bethany Road said they're worried that the project would devalue their homes, as well as increase traffic congestion, parking problems and noise.

In a 3-2 vote, the board voted to deny the expansion.

"I feel that 24 students is a lot to add. A 28% increase in students I think is a lot to put on a neighborhood," said board chair Undine Petrulis. "I think it will affect the neighborhood. I think that's potentially 24 new cars in and out."

Board member Christopher Rizzotti also voted to deny the expansion, though he had recused himself from the earlier meeting, citing that he owned a property nearby. He was advised, however, that he could participate if he felt there was no conflict since his property is more than 500 feet away from the proposed expansion. His rental property, however, does fall within a 1,000-foot radius of the proposed project.

"I felt that I could make a fair decision," he said via email.

In the minority, board members Douglas Drake and Kenneth San Miguel voiced support for the expansion.

Rabbi John Carrier said the congregation was surprised and disappointed by the decision, noting that to be good neighbors, the school had proposed maintaining the residential appearance of the home to preserve the aesthetic character of the neighborhood and funneling traffic through an existing 24-spot parking lot on Amherst Drive, not on Bethany Road.

"The testimony of those who voted against our proposal demonstrates an imperfect understanding of both the facts presented at the hearing, as well as the importance of this project to us in the free exercise of our religion in an open society, as the sole Conservative Jewish congregation serving the welcoming, pluralistic community that is Burbank," Carrier said.

The congregation's board of directors is considering appealing the decision.

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