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Burbank City Council delays vote on apartment project

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The Burbank City Council discussed for almost five hours on Tuesday whether it should allow a developer to build a 46-unit apartment complex on Cedar Avenue and Sixth Street. Residents who live nearby the proposed project are concerned about the mass of the project.
(Courtesy of the city of Burbank)

“See you on May 21.”

Those were the words Burbank Mayor Emily Gabel-Luddy said on Tuesday to the developer of a proposed 46-unit apartment complex in the foothill area of the city after nearly five hours of discussion.

The City Council voted 4-0 — Councilman Jess Talamantes was absent — to continue discussion about the proposed three-story, multifamily residential project on Cedar Avenue at Sixth Street to a meeting on May 21 to give city staff and the firm Rafa La Development additional time to modify its proposal to fit in better with the surrounding community.

The project was appealed by resident Tim Bissell, president of the Cedar Townhomes HOA — a community that is across the street from the proposed project.

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He and others in his community think the project fails to meet city codes and say it’s too large for the neighborhood.

Although the continuance has bought city officials more time to review the project, city staff members said everything they can do with the developer has been done and there’s little to no wiggle room for modifications.

“We’ve turned this project inside out, upside down,” said Fred Ramirez, the city’s assistant community development director of planning.

The city is in a bind because of the developer’s request for a density bonus and waivers for specific development standards, which for the most part are regulated by the state, said Daniel Villa, a senior planner for Burbank.

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The property — which currently has 14 bungalow-style apartments that have been vacated by the developer — is zoned for high-density residential, and the maximum number of units that can be built at the site is 34.

However, the developer is legally allowed to request a density bonus for the property, which, in this case, would allow for 12 more units than the maximum.

In order to qualify for the bonus, Rafa La Development had to set aside eight units as low-income — six low income and two very low income — for a minimum of 55 years.

Because the developer met the state requirements, Villa said the city must grant the bonus.

Additionally, Rafa La Development asked for waivers — mainly to allow for a third story and reduced frontyard and street-facing, sideyard setbacks — to build the 46 units.

These regulations also fall under state law and must be granted if not allowing the waivers would prevent the developer from constructing the project.

In this case, Villa said the waivers are required to allow the developer to move forward.

Although the proposed apartment complex, according to city staff, complies with state and city regulations, many residents who live around the site and those who advocate for responsible housing developments believe otherwise.

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“Let’s be clear, what’s proposed here is not a building,” Bissell said. “What’s proposed here is a luxury megaplex composed of six buildings.”

Bissell and his neighbors said they disapproved of several aspects of the project, which include the height of the buildings, a proposed rooftop deck and a two-story subterranean parking garage.

Bissell added that he is not opposed to development in the area, but he thinks the project on the table isn’t compatible with the neighborhood.

Gabel-Luddy said she was ready to move forward with the project, despite the concerns that were raised. However, when she made a motion to approve the development, she received no support from her council colleagues.

While she said she understood the proposed development is less than desirable for the surrounding residents, the city is in dire need of housing and city staff members did everything they could within their power and jurisdiction to make the project work.

“We can deny this project, but I don’t know that the outcome is going to be any better for us,” Gabel-Luddy said.

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