First published in the May 14 print issue of the Burbank Leader.
A group of developers is planning to build low-density office space at the site of the Circle K stables in the Rancho neighborhood, though a group of residents has opposed the proposal.
The Butterfly Gardens project would replace the stables — though not the adjacent horse rental facility, which is a separate property — with a three-story office building. Proposed by a three-person development team made up of Garen Gozumian, Charles Boyajian and Garo Manjikian, the design would feature single-occupant, leasable rooms for individual workers and would include both indoor and outdoor spaces. One of those spaces would be a pollinator habitat, including butterflies, to promote biodiversity.
The developers recently submitted the roughly 17,000-square-foot project to the city, though the City Council is scheduled to consider the feasibility of purchasing the property next month.
Gozumian said the project would allow workers — particularly entertainment freelancers, artists and creatives who live in and around Burbank — space to work outside a traditional office while maintaining separation from home.
He added that he and his colleagues designed the site to address potential concerns the equestrian Rancho neighborhood might raise, particularly regarding horse safety and traffic. They would dedicate 37 feet of the lot, about 12%, to widen Mariposa Street and build a new sidewalk that would include a horse path. They also said they are open to hosting tack sales and equestrian events on weekends.
“When you see the design … it’s very much inspired by the Rancho. It’s not a project that could fit really anywhere else,” Gozumian said. “We’ve really bent over backwards to try and bring something forth that the community can be proud of, the Rancho can be proud of, that Burbank can be proud of and that we can be proud of.”
The Rancho community has often fought developments — largely successfully — its members feel threaten their equestrian lifestyles. But the Butterfly Gardens Inc. developers said they’re different from previous applicants, saying they’ve met regularly with community members to answer questions and get input. Initial conversations, they added, have been generally productive.
But not all community members — even some who have met with the developers — are satisfied. For many, any project that would push the stables out is a threat to the community, though the developers have emphasized that they haven’t determined a move-out deadline and will provide ample notice.
Jay Geisenheimer, a Burbank Realtor who has lived in the Rancho neighborhood for 25 years, said the site is the wrong place for the project. An increase in traffic, she believes, would threaten horses and riders that use Mariposa and nearby streets to access Griffith Park. And even if the developers widened Mariposa along their parcel, the rest of the street would remain narrow.
“I don’t care how many open-space decks that they have, this is not a spot for an office building,” Geisenheimer said. “We’ll be dead by the time we get to their little street.”
Some organized opposition is already mounting against the project. Dozens of Rancho residents and Circle K patrons gathered at the stable in April, with Vice Mayor Konstantine Anthony giving an impromptu speech in which he expressed interest in having the city purchase the stables as a public service. The crowd erupted into cheers, a video on social media taken of the event shows, and Anthony asked attendees to lobby the City Council in support of the idea.
The item is tentatively scheduled to come before the City Council on June 7. It remains unclear how the city could purchase the property, as the developers have said the land is in escrow. Anthony said in an interview that he is hoping city staff members will research options, though he noted he has his own reservations about the idea.
“I am interested to see all of that, especially in the middle of our [city] budget discussion,” he added. “We have to weigh that against the price tag and how beneficial it would be for us to travel down this path.”
Manjikian, the developers’ director of communications, said they do not currently have a comment on the item.
Some residents are also worried that the loss of Circle K will make it more difficult for horse owners — both in and outside Burbank — to board their animals, a prospect particularly alarming for those who operate enterprises out of the stable.
“I’m completely disgusted by it,” said Davee Hallinan, a Glendale resident who uses Circle K Stables for her horse training and riding instructing business. “It’s completely inappropriate for the neighborhood. … [The stable is] almost like a second home for a lot of people.”
Because the property is zoned for industrial use, the developers can build their project by-right, meaning city officials can’t stop construction as long as the plans comply with local regulations. But Gozumian said he and his colleagues want to address concerns as much as they can, and hope to eventually hold a community meeting.
“People lump us in with every developer in the world, which is … understandable,” he added. “But I think what we’re doing really hasn’t been done by anyone else, the way we’ve approached it and the effort that we’ve put into it.”
Dario Perez, whose family has rented the property and run the stables since the 1980s, said interest in horseback riding has increased during the pandemic, he added, with people seeing an outdoor activity they could do while socially distancing.
The stables can board up to 70 or 75 horses, Perez explained, with about 40 currently kept there.
“Obviously, yes, we’re losing a business, but on the same side of it, it’s like what development does,” he said. “It takes away the small business, and that’s what we are. … The bigger fish comes in, sometimes, to get you.”
The developers maintained that they’re not “snatching away” the property, pointing out that it has been on the market for two years with no one from the local community purchasing it. Perez believes the lot owner was asking for more money than most were willing to pay, which is why few buyers have shown interest.
Geisenheimer, the Rancho Realtor, has a different opinion.
“The Rancho has a reputation of being a unified community that can band together and fight issues,” she said. “So, a lot of developers don’t want to take a chance anymore.”
Asked whether she believes the Rancho residents opposing the project can keep it away, Geisenheimer’s response was simpler.
“We haven’t lost a fight yet,” she said.