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Hillside development approved despite concerns from residents, preservationists

After four years of working with Burbank planning officials and revising plans, Burbank resident Araik Tonoyan can start building his new home, even though concerns were expressed about the project.

The Burbank City Council unanimously voted during its meeting on March 5 to deny an appeal on the matter and allow Tonoyan to construct a 3,551-square-foot house in the 3100 block of Mesa Verde Drive.

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The proposed house will be a two-story structure, with a 591-square-foot, three-car garage, a setback roof and offset second floor.

Although the project was approved with applause from Tonoyan as well as his family and friends, several residents as well as members of a group called Preserve Burbank argued the project does not comply with city regulations for a hillside development permit nor meet single-family home guidelines approved by city officials in 2017.

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James Casey, a Preserve Burbank member and one of the appellants, told council members they denied Tonoyan’s project in 2017 because there was issue with the bulk and mass of the house.

The project at that time was proposed to consist of a 4,000-square-foot house with a 610-square-foot garage, which officials back then thought did not meet criteria in city codes.

Fred Ramirez, assistant community development director, said city staff worked with Tonoyan for several days to get to the point where the plans are today.

However, Casey told the City Council the house should be less than 3,400 square feet, have a smaller second story and a garage limited to two vehicles to address the mass issue of the proposed home.

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Additionally, he and fellow appellant Sue Cleereman had issues with the side setback of the house, which is 4 feet 3 inches away from the property line. Burbank’s municipal code requires the side setback be at least 10 feet.

“The term was made that this is a war. This is a war,” Casey said. “I’ve been engaged in a war for four years in Burbank, and that war has been to protect the hillside ordinance, which was being completely ignored for decades prior to Preserve Burbank’s discovery.”

Daniel Villa, a senior planner for the city who has been working on the project, said Tonoyan was allowed to build so close to the property line as long as fire-rate walls and an emergency sprinkler system were installed in the home, as well as a 6-foot-tall fence.

Mayor Emily Gabel-Luddy said Tonoyan’s project has come a long way since it was first submitted in 2015, when he proposed to construct a 6,052-square-foot house.

Though the project is not to the liking of some residents, Gabel-Luddy said Tonoyan has put in the effort to meet the city’s requirements.

“I respectfully disagree with the appellants in searching for a better design that achieves more compatibility,” Gabel-Ludy said. “To me, it doesn’t have to be identical, but it has to be done in a manner that makes an effort to be compatible, and I believe that the applicant, at this point, has reached and achieved the level of compatibility.”

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