Burbank denies developer’s preapplication to submit its housing project

The Burbank City Council voted on Tuesday to deny MLC Holdings, Inc. its pre-application to submit plans for a 34-home development in the Rancho district.
(File photo)

A conceptual proposal for a housing development in the Rancho district is not compatible with the surrounding neighborhood, according to a decision by the Burbank City Council Tuesday.

After nearly four hours of public testimony and deliberation, council members voted 3-2 to deny MLC Holdings, Inc. its preapplication request to submit a proposal to build 34 single-family homes on a 4.7-acre plot at 814 S. Mariposa St.

Mayor Will Rogers and Councilwoman Sharon Springer cast the dissenting votes.

Patrick Prescott, the city’s community development director, said the preapplication process became a city policy in 2013 after a developer tried to replace a former General Motors training facility with a residential development.

The preliminary review process allows the City Council to determine from the beginning if a developer’s project is worth the city’s time to analyze and process, Prescott said.

Had the City Council opted to approve MLC Holdings’ preapplication request, it would have allowed the developer to submit its application to ask the city to rezone the property from limited industrial to planned development. Limited-industrial use includes office space, restaurants, wholesale retailers, a gym or light manufacturing, said Lisa Frank, an associate planner for Burbank.

In order to change the zoning, the project would have had to undergo a process, which includes being reviewed by city departments and the Rancho Review Board, draft an environmental impact report pursuant with the California Environmental Quality Act and be reviewed and approved by the Planning Board and the City Council, said Frank.

However, more than 70 residents, who were mainly from the Rancho district, filled the council chambers and hallways of city hall and sported stickers that asked the City Council to vote down the preapplication.

“Why would we change our zoning in such a sensitive area, let alone any place in Burbank?” said Nancy Sherwood, who was one of about 30 residents who spoke against the potential project. “It sets such a dangerous precedent.”

The Mariposa Street plot used to be home to industrial camera manufacturer Photo-Sonics and is currently occupied by a research company.

The Rancho district is known for its unique equestrian-friendly neighborhoods. Many homes in the district have horse stables, where residents can board horses.

Sherwood and other residents told the City Council that putting 34 homes on that site would possibly increase traffic in the neighborhood and could impact the utility infrastructure in the Rancho district.

“This is totally unfitting, I believe, for my city,” Sherwood said. “It’s not fitting anywhere. I wouldn’t want to see this up in the hills, with the lack of egress and access that you’ve got. I wouldn’t want to see it anywhere. It’s not fitting, and I don’t believe it ever will be.”

Resident Alisa Cunningham told council members that the homes in the proposed project would help address the city’s housing shortfall.

However, she expressed concerns about the proposed homes’ prices, which are expected to be over $1 million. She said she thinks that price is not affordable for young adults who want to stay in Burbank or those with studio jobs looking to live closer to work.

“To address the housing crisis and provide single-family homes for the aforementioned, we need properties that will sell for $600,000 to $800,000,” Cunningham said.

Many residents, including Sue Cleereman, said they were concerned that approving the preapplication would open the door for the developer that is working on the Pickwick Gardens project, a potential housing development in Rancho with roughly 285 apartments and about 30 townhomes, which Rancho residents adamantly oppose due to its size.

“Right now, Burbank is under siege,” Cleereman said. “Developers are lining up, and this request for a zoning change and planned amendment is nothing more than a land grab — a foot in the door for larger developments.”

Aaron Talarico, a planning manager from MLC Holdings, said the project has changed throughout the planning process. There were initially 54 houses proposed for the plot, but that figure was whittled down after hearing feedback from residents and city staff, he added.

When asked if fewer than 20 houses could be built on the site, Nicholas Emsiek, vice president of land acquisition for MLC Holdings, said that, if that were the case, the property would be worth more as a commercial/industrial use.

“There’s probably not a residential project at that density,” Emsiek said. “Can’t say never, but it is certainly worth at the same value, if not more, at that density residential versus many of the by-right uses it can be today.”

Rogers and Springer countered that approving the preapplication would have allowed the city to at least study the impacts the housing project would have had on the neighborhood.

Rogers, quoting a city staff report, said approving the preapplication does not bind the city to approve the project.

“The way that I see it is it’s a study,” Springer said. “It’s not a decision made about what’s going there now, it’s just a study to see if there will be an amendment to the general plan. It’s not a given.”

However, Vice Mayor Emily Gabel-Luddy and Councilmen Bob Frutos and Jess Talamantes said the developer was not adhering to the Rancho Master Plan and the proposal was not the right fit.

“Let’s not waste our time, let’s not waste the community’s time, let’s not waste the developer’s time and let’s move forward without any change tonight,” Gabel-Luddy said.

Twitter: @acocarpio