City Plans Hearing on SB 9 Density Rules

First published in the April 2 print issue of the Burbank Leader.

The Burbank City Council will hold a public hearing next week on a temporary ordinance that would set rules for lot splits and duplexes created through Senate Bill 9.

SB 9, a controversial law that California legislators passed last year in an attempt to help ease the state’s housing crisis, allows single-family homeowners to create two-unit houses under certain conditions. The same law also allows property owners to bisect their lots if they are large enough. SB 9 also prevents cities from denying applications for such projects that meet municipal development standards.

When the City Council holds its public hearing on Tuesday, planning officials will recommend its members pass an urgency ordinance that will implement the core aspects of SB 9 while buying time to craft a more comprehensive policy. At least four out of the council’s five members must vote for the urgency ordinance — which would go into effect immediately — for it to pass. The rules would then remain for 45 days unless extended.

The urgency ordinance, officials said, would give them time to study the law’s potential impacts on utility infrastructure and develop permanent standards, particularly regarding accessory dwelling unit regulations, for applicants to follow.

“Adopting such standards quickly will reduce the potential for sewer overflows, disruption of electrical services and overwhelming weekly refuse collection,” planning officials said in the staff report. “This also creates an opportunity for cities to adopt more tailored objective standards that address local concerns … [than] would be possible under the current state law without any local refinements.”

Burbank has heard from two to three people per week from people asking about applying for an SB 9 project, city officials said in a staff report, though no one had submitted an application as of last week. City staff members expressed concern that if they do not regulate SB 9’s provisions, property owners could build as many as eight units — including an accessory dwelling unit and a junior ADU — on what is currently a single-family residential lot.

A report from the Terner Center for Housing Innovation at University of California, Berkeley, published while SB 9 was moving through the state legislature, estimated that the vast majority of Burbank’s single-family parcels would be eligible for the law’s provisions. But the organization also calculated that increasing the number of units would be financially beneficial for only a small fraction of local parcels, and expressed doubt that neighborhoods would see drastic changes.

As proposed, Burbank’s urgency ordinance would allow property owners to invoke SB 9 if their lots are not in a state-designated fire hazard zone. According to a map included in the materials for the public hearing, some hillside properties north of Scott Road and Bel Aire Drive are in a fire hazard zone.

One parking space would be required per primary dwelling unit, though lots within half of a mile walking distance of a “high-quality transit” corridor or a major transit stop would not have a parking requirement, per SB 9’s provisions. Because of the locations of Burbank’s bus routes, many of the city’s parcels would fall under this exception.

The new unit of a duplex would have to comply with the development and design standards of the neighborhood, and would have to match the look of the first unit. If a property owner splits a lot — which would only be allowed for lots of at least 2,400 square feet — only two units could be on each. If a space is not the result of a split, it could have as many as four units.

SB 9 also requires that the property owner must live at one of the lots for at least three years after splitting the parcel.

Community members will have the opportunity to address the City Council on the urgency ordinance during next week’s public hearing.

The agenda for the meeting is available on the city’s website.