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Burbank city officials approve apartment project despite some concerns

Burbank city officials approve apartment project despite some concerns
The Burbank City Council approved a 46-unit apartment complex on Cedar Avenue at Sixth Street even though some nearby residents and a few council members had concerns about the project. (Courtesy of the city of Burbank)

An apartment project on Cedar Avenue at Sixth Street is moving forward to the dismay of some residents and a few city officials.

The Burbank City Council unanimously voted on Tuesday to approve a proposed 46-unit apartment complex in the foothill area — a project some neighboring residents say would negatively impact their community.

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Resident Tim Bissell, president of the Cedar Town Homes Homeowners’ Assn., appealed the project, saying it is too large for the surrounding community.

The project was initially approved by Patrick Prescott, the city’s community development director, on Oct. 25, 2018.

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Council members voted on April 30 to delay a vote on the project for three weeks as a Hail-Mary attempt to work with developer Rafa La Development one last time to try and make the apartment complex more acceptable for residents who live near the site.

However, city staff members met with representatives from Rafa La Development once during that time period, and company officials were set on moving forward with the proposal on the table, said Councilman Tim Murphy, who suggested postponing a decision on the project three weeks ago.

“I was hopeful,” Murphy said. “I’m not saying that I support the project, but I believe I’m going to vote for the project because I feel that I have to according to the law, but that does not mean I’m happy about it.”

The project is unique because Rafa La Development requested a density bonus and waivers for specific development standards, which are mainly regulated by state law.

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The property is zoned for high-density residential, and the maximum number of units that can be constructed is 34.

However, Rafa La Development was legally permitted to request a density bonus for the site and, in this case, the company will be allowed to build an extra 12 units.

Additionally, the developer requested several waivers, which included smaller setbacks to allow for a larger open space in the center of the site and to have three-story buildings in the complex.

To qualify for the bonus and waivers, the developer had to set aside eight low-income units — six low income and two very low income — for a minimum of 55 years.

Although some residents and a few council members had concerns about aspects of the apartment complex, city staff said the project complies with all state and city regulations.

“The state law says the local jurisdiction shall comply with these requirements,” Mayor Emily Gabel-Luddy said. “It doesn’t say the local jurisdiction may comply with these requirements. It is a mandatory requirement.”

Gabel-Luddy added that local governments won a small battle last week after Senate Bill 50 was shelved until 2020. It’s a measure authored by Sen. Scott Wiener (D-San Francisco) which would have required job-rich cities to allow fourplexes to be built in areas zoned for single-family homes, as well as loosen requirements for housing projects built near transit hubs.

She said cities like Burbank are in a “vice grip” by the state to create more housing to address a statewide housing shortfall.

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Had SB 50 gone through, Gabel-Luddy said Burbank would have less of a say about housing projects like the one proposed.

“On the one hand, we have residents who say, ‘No more density no matter what, even if the state mandates that we approve it,’ and Sacramento saying, ‘Well, neighbors don’t want more density, so we’re just going to rip local control away from local government and take it over,” Gabel-Luddy said.

“The last thing in the world I want to see is our city lose control of the kind of direction that we, as a council, have worked on to begin to develop the kind of housing that’s needed in our city,” she added.

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