Development has emerged perhaps the biggest issue in the City Council race, with a number of challengers railing against the recent approval of a so-called “exceptional project” — a term that allows current members of the dais to greenlight projects that have up to 25% more density than would otherwise be allowed.
Additionally, a 58-acre site near the airport, known as the “B6” parcel, is expected to be developed in the coming years, which City Council candidate Will Rogers has noted would make it the largest “all-new development” in the city since World War II.
Fellow candidate David Nos also raised concerns about the project, also known as the “opportunity site.”
“What we do in the next four years is going to plan for the next 50,” said Nos, who added that traffic and mansionization are some of his other concerns.
The issues have split the candidates. Some have defended recent council decisions on development, but others have said the city has done too little to seek public input and has even disregarded residents’ concerns.
Nos said it’s difficult to second-guess the current City Council’s decisions, such as its approval of a proposed 241-unit apartment building atop a 43,000-square-foot Whole Foods Market, known as the “Talaria at Burbank.” The Media District project exceeds density limits by 8%.
Councilwoman Emily Gabel-Luddy, running for reelection, who voted in favor of the project, has noted that it was less dense than the earlier approved project there, known as the Platt project, which was approved in 2004 — before she was on the council — and terminated in 2009.
She also noted that the council listened to residents and committed $1 million to traffic mitigations in the area. The planned environmentally friendly design is another benefit she has touted — the developer agreed to obtain certification as a “green building” as a condition of approval.
Nos said that he probably would have given Talaria a qualified yes, since it was less-dense than the Platt project, but he would have sought to bring the density down further and would have requested more than the $1.2-million price tag for land the city sold to the developer — assessors said the land was valued between about $1 million and $3.7 million — for use on traffic mitigation.
Elise Stearns-Niesen said she would have sought a higher sale price for the property as well, and said that the project’s density and traffic impacts also concerned her. She also said she would like a stronger definition of what makes an “exceptional project” — currently it only has a draft of such guidelines.
Stearns-Niesen said the city needs to strike a balance rather than blocking all development, which she said could cause blight. She said she also supports the city’s efforts to establish standards to prevent “mansionization.”
She has also been floating the idea of attracting a minor league baseball stadium to the B6 parcel near the airport that will eventually be developed. She said such a plan might have fewer traffic impacts.
Juan Guillen, who said he’s “pro quality of life,” not antidevelopment, said he’d like to see the B6 parcel developed for light manufacturing purposes which would provide jobs that could pay decent wages and allow workers to live in Burbank, rather than a use that would draw lower-wage workers from out of town and increase traffic.
Guillen said he disagreed with the City Council’s approval of the Talaria project as “exceptional,” but supported its denial of another project seeking added density, the proposed “Five 50 North” development, which he said would have been the second mixed-use project approved without a clear definition of the term.
Developers of the proposed project at 550 N. Third St. sought to build a six-floor, 97 apartment retail-and-residential building — 25% more-dense than typically allowed — with 15% less parking than required by code. The council approved the development in December, then reversed that decision in January.
“Exceptional projects shouldn’t just bring exceptional profits for the developer,” Guillen said. “It should bring exceptional quality of life for the residents.”
Sharon Springer said residents’ concerns seemed to be an “afterthought” in the Talaria project. In looking at the Five 50 North proposal, she went through the city’s draft checklist for determining exceptional projects and “couldn’t come up with enough check marks,” she said. She took her concerns over its lack of affordable units to the council during its January deliberations.
Springer said greater effort and patience should be invested into openly and honestly analyzing projects to ensure they are the best they can be, adding that the city has been too one-sided in its deliberation on developments, with “developers getting all the concessions and exceptions.”
Rogers has also said that the city should show the same kind of flexibility in its dealings with residents that it shows to big developers.
Christopher Rizzotti, who is vice chairman of the city’s Planning Board, supported both the Talaria and Five 50 North projects before they went to City Council. He has said that he considers each project individually on its merits.
As a Realtor, he’s said, he touts the city’s tranquil neighborhoods and good services, which he would strive to protect.
“The last thing I’d want to do is harm them,” he said in an interview last week.