First published in the Nov. 20 print issue of the Burbank Leader.
A plan to build hundreds of apartment units at the former Fry’s Electronics site will move forward, Burbank officials decided this week, despite opposition to the development.
The Burbank Aero Crossings project, located at 3211 N. Hollywood Way, will feature a total of 862 housing units, two restaurants and office space. Those units include 80 homes that will be designated for very low-income households.
Not long after the Burbank Planning Board approved the project in September, resident Roy Wiegand — an administrator of the Save Burbank Neighborhoods Facebook group, which has often advocated against large developments — appealed it. During a roughly five-hour public hearing with the City Council on Tuesday, Wiegard argued that it was irresponsible to build such a sprawling complex while state officials are calling on residents to conserve water during an intensifying drought.
But all five council members voted against the appeal, saying that it did not meet the legal burden of proof that would allow a denial of the project. They also noted that the residential units would significantly move Burbank toward its state and municipal housing goals — nearly 9,000 units by 2029 and 12,000 units by 2035, respectively.
LaTerra Development, LLC, submitted the project under California Senate Bill 330, preventing — among other things — the city from rejecting Burbank Aero Crossings unless it conflicts with preexisting local housing regulations or poses an unmitigable “specific adverse impact” on public health or safety. Making an unwarranted denial could cost the city millions of dollars in fines.
“Cities, not just Burbank but other cities, were always reluctant to add housing,” Mayor Bob Frutos said during the hearing, “[and] Sacramento took a lot of our discretionary authority away from us.”
SERVICE IMPACTS DISCUSSED
Wiegand pointed out that Burbank recently limited sprinkler usage to one day a week to conserve water. Burbank Aero Crossings, he maintained, would substantially increase water demand once completed — by at least 6.3 million gallons per month, according to a city-approved study.
“I’m not anti-development, but I am against badly planned development,” Wiegand told the council. “Your No. 1 job as elected officials is to project our health and safety. What happens when the tap runs dry? I can tell you two things, definitely: it’s not healthy and it’s not safe.”
But Burbank Water and Power officials insisted that the city’s supply could keep up with the increased demand. Dawn Roth Lindell, the utility’s general manager, said that the study found that Burbank has enough water to cover need for the next 20 years even with the new buildings.
Community members who spoke during the hearing’s public comment portion generally opposed the project, expressing concerns about its impact on water supply, as well as traffic on Hollywood Way and burden on the fire and police departments. An environmental assessment posited that the agencies could serve the additional residents presented by Burbank Aero Crossings, and that while it would worsen traffic in the surrounding area, LaTerra would pay for neighborhood protection measures. Many speakers, however, remained unconvinced.
But city officials indicated that their options are limited, noting that they are tasked with addressing both the drought and housing crisis.
“It may seem at odds that we are asking Burbank citizens to conserve [water],” Lindell said. “That is at the request of the governor. … There is also a statewide mandate to build housing. So, we’ve got conflicting, or what could be viewed as conflicting, statewide mandates.”
MIXED REACTIONS TO MIXED USE
The project received support from multiple nonprofits, with leaders of the Burbank Chamber of Commerce, Family Promise of the Verdugos and the local Boys and Girls Club chapter speaking in support of its low-income units. LaTerra received a 42.5% increase in housing density above the site’s usual limit in exchange for the provision.
Burbank Aero Crossings will include one of the city’s largest offerings of affordable rental units in 15 to 20 years, according to Fred Ramirez, assistant community development director. LaTerra representatives also emphasized the area’s proximity to the Metrolink station and its inclusion of a public pedestrian path.
“We appreciate all the hard work that city staff put in to get us to this key milestone,” Chris Tourtellotte, LaTerra’s managing director, told the Leader in a statement after the hearing. “We are looking forward to beginning construction of this important transit-oriented development and bringing much-needed market rate and affordable housing to the city of Burbank.”
Construction on the project is planned to begin at the end of next year, Tourtellotte added, and is anticipated to finish about 30 months later.
Even some City Council members had some reservations about the development, however. Konstantine Anthony said he was disappointed that the project did not involve for-sale housing, such as condos, in its number of affordable units. Nick Schultz also noted that he would have preferred that the plans included a grocery store.
“If we really are trying to create a place where people live and work … that might reduce the likelihood of someone needing to get in their vehicle and drive down to Empire Center and go to Target,” he said, thereby reducing traffic.
In a statement, Wiegand said Save Burbank Neighborhoods was disappointed by the council’s decision, though members “remain hopeful” that the project’s affordable units will have a positive impact.
“We were hoping the council would have been willing to request an investigation to see if there was, in fact, additional evidence to suggest that a lack of water would lead to specific adverse impacts,” he added.
Save Burbank Neighborhood is likely to soon lobby the council on another subject. For years, its members have pushed city to increase the fees it charges developers for their projects’ impacts on municipal services; those fees are significantly below those charged in neighboring cities, a point Wiegand emphasized during the hearing. A study session on the subject is scheduled for next month.