Roughly 250 people packed the Buena Vista Library Wednesday to stake out positions on a 120-unit residential project proposed for a lot in the Rancho District.
Although the intention of the meeting was to discuss the Rancho District’s future as a whole, most of the speakers at the meeting were there to make clear their opposition to the development. At one point, almost everyone in attendance raised their hands to indicate they were against the project.
Santa Monica-based New Urban West submitted an application in June to build 15 buildings containing a total of 120 one-, two- and three-bedroom townhomes and condos units on the roughly five-acre former General Motors training site.
But the project has found few fans, with residents in the area expressing concerns about increased traffic.
Despite promises by New Urban West to work with the community and closely follow the city’s review process, Burbank Transportation Commission Chairman Paul Dyson, a Rancho resident who also attended the meeting, said the attempt at goodwill wouldn’t be enough.
“There is more opposition to this than [there was to] Whole Foods — the developer might as well withdraw its money,” Dyson said. “I’m not saying the project is right or wrong, that’s just the reality in the community.”
Rancho District residents — citing similar congestion concerns — successfully fought a proposal to bring in a Whole Foods market several years ago.
The New Urban West project calls for condos and townhomes, but city officials at the meeting acknowledged that the units could be rented out until the economy and housing market recovers to the point where developers felt they could make a profit.
That drew a negative response from the audience.
Bill Smith, a Rancho resident since 1976, characterized the neighborhood response as people being “protective” of their lifestyle.
Smith said he was involved in the 1992 conversation on the area’s master plan.
“It’s like déjà vu,” Smith said. “The impetus for that was the Pavilions project, and the same thing took place.”
Councilwoman Emily Gabel-Luddy, who requested that city officials set the meeting, said she had some concerns about the GM site and did not want to tip-toe around the “800-pound elephant” in the room.
She also noted that when she was campaigning for a seat on the City Council, many residents said the conversation had been dropped when it came to the Master Plan and she hoped any frustrations would be alleviated, now that the city was initiating dialogue on the plan.
“It’s not going to happen overnight,” Gabel-Luddy said of a master plan, adding that she was looking forward to a constructive conversation.
Assistant Community Development Director Michael Forbes, who served as the moderator, said Thursday that the city received a lot of positive feedback after the meeting.
“There seemed to be a perception among a lot of people that the proposed residential project was sponsored or endorsed by the city, which is not the case,” Forbes said in an email. “Hopefully, we were able to address some of those concerns and help people to understand that there is a public process and that their voice will definitely be heard if they choose to participate.”
The City Council is scheduled to discuss the Rancho Master Plan in January. Residents also created a Facebook page to share information on the neighborhood and proposed developments.