First published in the March 19 print issue of the Burbank Leader.
The Burbank City Council adopted a set of proposed changes to regulations for single-family home renovation and construction, a move officials said would streamline a sluggish permitting process.
The council, which unanimously approved the changes during its Tuesday meeting, has been weighing the proposal for more than a month. Planning officials have insisted that the new language codifies limits on bulky homes, removes ambiguities and makes regulations applicable to all single-family house projects.
Among the components removed are one permit process, a mandate that neighbors of a development receive mailed notice of the project and the existence of a formal appeals window for residents.
Those changes, which go into effect in mid-April, have alarmed some community members who are concerned they will remove protections implemented to prevent the building of oversized homes. But planning representatives have repeatedly argued that they will integrate current regulations in their plan check process, with some differences. They have also said that the changes will shorten review timelines to three to eight months, down from 12 to 16 months.
Still, council members agreed to make some alterations to the Community Development Department’s proposal. A sign will be posted on the project site with a description and image of the development, along with the contact information of officials overseeing it. A similar sign usually appears after the developer receives a building permit, according to CDD Director Patrick Prescott, but due to the council’s direction will appear sooner, when the project enters plan check.
“[Residents] take pride in their neighborhood,” said Councilman Bob Frutos. “They want to know what’s being built, and when they don’t know what’s being built until the excavator shows up the next day [for] a swimming pool … I feel that that’s not good for the residents.”
Prescott confirmed to council members that residents can notify the city if they believe a project isn’t complying with building codes, though he added that building inspectors would also conduct routine checks.
The City Council also deferred one aspect of the code changes that attracted particular scrutiny from residents who opposed the proposal: an increase in the maximum plate height from 20 feet to 22 feet. Officials have emphasized that the overall maximum building height will remain 30 feet, and that the plate height change is intended to help homeowners with houses on raised foundations or slopes. But opponents have argued that the increase will allow residents to peer into their neighbors’ yards.
“I want [the process] to be streamlined,” said Councilwoman Sharon Springer, “but I don’t find [the increase] very clear, and lots of people don’t.”
The council and city staff members agreed that the provision will return to the panel at a later time, allowing community members to better understand its specifics. CDD officials said they’ve received numerous complaints in recent years from homeowners frustrated with the amount of time necessary to process their building applications.
One resident, Greg Aslanian, who addressed the City Council on Tuesday, said he’d been waiting since August 2020 to obtain permits, noting that construction costs have since more than doubled.
“Even though any designer and architect and planner can help craft a home to fit the parameters that are there in black and white, there is still quite a bit of holdup and arbitrariness that’s injected into the process,” he said. “It seems endless.”
Glendale’s design review process takes about two years for a project, according to Burbank planner Shipra Rajesh. Some residents had claimed that Glendale’s procedure was much faster, with more restrictions. Other residents continued to decry the proposal, saying the City Council should refrain from a decision until it holds more community meetings. The city previously delayed a vote on the item to hold a public meeting in which officials fielded questions from residents.
But resident Jim Casey called the meeting “a waste of time and resources,” claiming city staff members didn’t satisfactorily address questions. He asked the council to instead allow him and other opponents to present evidence for their support of the current design guidelines.
“Tonight, you’re being asked to make an impossible decision,” he said.