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Monday, Apr 22, 2024

Development Fever Cools at City Hall

Following a building boom that resulted in multi-story towers and large commercial office space projects, Burbank has begun to cast more scrutiny toward what developers want to build. In recent years, a shift took place that says the city looks at development differently than it did in the 1990s; a shift that saw the election of a frequent critic to the dais of the City Council; a shift that culminated in a rejection by that same council of a Whole Foods Market near the tony Rancho District. That 2007 decision was made because of concerns over the size of the building and the traffic it would generate. A year after the council decision, Councilwoman Marsha Ramos still takes heat for casting a no vote. “Residents are understanding for the most part,” Ramos said. “There are those who wanted their organic food store in Burbank and those choices are limited.” There was a time when city leaders would approve a proposal such as the Whole Foods plan but those days are gone. While not necessarily no growth, Burbank has become more selective and willing to tell developers to change their projects or give an outright no. It’s a change from the late 1980s, when the city reeled from the loss of aerospace jobs at the former Lockheed plant and would do what was necessary to replace them. Dave Golonski, now serving in his 16th year on the council and the current mayor, said that when first elected the members were much more pro-development. Subsequent councils have since then been consistent in a stand of being pro-business yet also protective of the unique residential neighborhoods in the city, Golonski said. His council colleague David Gordon is cut of different cloth. A frequent critic of council decisions to back new development, Gordon was elected in 2006 in a campaign in which he pledged to turn back the “Los Angelization” of Burbank allowing high-density condos and office buildings without enough scrutiny to their effects on traffic and city infrastructure. Attempts to reach Gordon were not successful. His was one of the no votes that sunk the Whole Foods Market proposal over its size and impact to traffic. There was precedent to that decision in how the elected officials dealt with the twin office towers originally proposed for the 3400 block of Olive Avenue in the Media District by the Platt Co., a developer that has since filed for bankruptcy. For two years representatives of Platt came before the council. And for two years the council’s response was to make the project smaller. In 2005 the city reached an agreement to redevelop the property into a mixed-use site with 30,000 square feet of office space and 220 condominium units. A year later the matter was before a bankruptcy judge. While the office towers would have caused problems in terms of traffic, a plus to the revised project was adding the residential component, Golonski said. “Putting that in a commercial corridor made sense,” Golonski said. More mixed use projects, such as The Burbank Collection, where condos selling for $400,000 and up will be above retail shops and restaurants, will be in Burbank’s future if Ramos had her way. The city needs to compete against such new ventures as the recently opened Americana at Brand in neighboring Glendale, she said. The Burbank Collection, a retail and condo project, is slated for completion later in the year. The city however rejected a large brightly lit sign that was to face the Golden State (5) Freeway and insisted the parking be done first. Next to Providence St. Joseph Medical Center on Alameda Avenue rises the first of two towers making up The Pointe by developer M. David Paul. That project, however, is being done under an existing entitlement given to NBC Universal when it owned the property and transferred when it was sold. With vacant land non-existent, the city has identified sites ripe for redevelopment but already in use. One is on Olive Avenue in downtown now used by a bank. A tire store sits on another not far away on First Street. Both sites present the opportunity for something significant and there had been developers inquiring about one of them, Ramos said. With the real estate market in free fall over the sub-prime mortgage collapse developers may be wary of building more housing. Perhaps they are waiting to see how well Champion Development does with The Collection. An option open to anyone interested in those properties is siding with commercial office space and limiting the residential and retail, Ramos said. “I think it is important to move forward on the opportunity sites,” Ramos said.

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