Burbank City Council Denies Pickwick Bowl Project

Photo by Charles Hirsch / Burbank Leader | The Burbank City Council voted unanimously on April 18, 2022, to reject a project proposed under California Senate Bill 35 that would have replaced the Pickwick Bowl with 98 townhomes.

The Burbank City Council unanimously voted Monday to deny a much-criticized proposal to convert the Pickwick Bowl site into 96 townhome units, a move that officials cautioned could invite a lawsuit.

Laguna Beach developer Matthew Waken, who purchased the property last year, had submitted the project application under California Senate Bill 35. Under that law, cities that haven’t met their share of state-mandated housing construction — a group that includes the vast majority of municipalities — must approve eligible residential projects that have a specified percentage of affordable units. Those projects must comply with a city’s development standards, including design and land-use rules.

But the City Council argued that the Burbank Municipal Code says the project site isn’t zoned for residential use and is therefore ineligible for SB 35’s provisions.

“Forcing and distorting this non-residential land use designation into ministerial review for residential development is jamming a square peg into a round hole, and potentially shatters the Rancho neighborhood,” said Councilwoman Sharon Springer.

Burbank’s planning staff and the state Housing and Community Development department have disputed that contention, pointing out that the city’s General Plan — which according to state law overrides conflicting zoning regulations — allows housing in the Pickwick’s zone. Developers and housing advocacy groups have sued other cities they believe have violated SB 35’s rules, a possibility council members acknowledged was possible for Burbank. However, council members also said they were open to negotiating a more acceptable project with the developer.

The City Council received well over 100 emails and phone calls from community members ahead of Monday’s public hearing, with all but a handful opposing the project. The city’s equestrian Rancho neighborhood, where the Pickwick property is located, argued the additional homes would increase traffic and endanger riders.

Waken did not immediately respond to a request for comment.

In-depth coverage on the public hearing is scheduled for publication in the Leader on Saturday.