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Berlin irked by lack of respect

Laura Sturza

After serving for more than nine years on the city’s Planning Board,

Carolyn Berlin surprised other members by abruptly resigning, because

of what she called a disregard for board input by city staff.

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“You could have blown us all away,” fellow board member Gary Olson

said of Berlin’s announcement at Monday night’s board meeting. “She

obviously feels somehow that there is some lack of respect for the

Planning Board, and I can’t substantiate that.”

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Olson, who has served four years, is not reapplying for a seat on

the five-member board. But he said the decision has nothing to with

any dispute over recommending long-range plans for the city’s

development, including granting or denying permits and variances.

“I don’t think that people should stay too long on particular

boards,” Olson said. “I think it’s good for there to be new ideas and

fresh perspectives.”

Berlin, the board’s chairwoman, said a recommendation by city

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planners to the City Council to approve the $200 million Platt

development despite being unanimously denied by the board exemplified

senior staff’s dismissal of board opinion.

“The staff became project advocates,” she said. “They recommended

approval of the project against our suggestion.”

But Community Development Director Sue Georgino said her staff

made its recommendation to the council after the developer had made

concessions to the city based on input from residents and the

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Planning Board, including reducing the height of the project from 15

to 12 stories.

“The staff clearly considers the [board’s] recommendations before

they go to City Council and we reflect them in the staff report,”

Georgino said. “Our role is technical. We look at whether [a project]

meets code.”

Board member Margaret Taylor agreed with Georgino, and added that

Burbank has “one of the most professional and quality planning staffs

in the region.” As a consultant, Taylor has seen well- and

poorly-planned cities, she said.

Berlin said the will of residents is insufficiently represented by

staff, adding that she’s never seen as much public opposition as she

did with the Platt project.

“The community perceives that the Planning Board is being

disregarded, and that they are just being bypassed by the staff,” she

said of feedback from residents.

But Councilman Jef Vander Borght, who served on the Planning Board

for 11 years, said he sees no evidence that city staff is running

the show.

In the case of the Platt project, the Council disagreed with

staff’s recommendation and agreed with the Planning Board, he said.

The City Council also unanimously denied the project.

“The Council certainly treats the board’s input very seriously,”

Vander Borght said.


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