For months, an Orange County developer has been locked in a battle with neighborhood opponents and the Burbank City Council over a proposal to transform the Pickwick Bowl, a decades-old bowling alley, into a major townhome development.
On Tuesday, after facing a YIMBY lawsuit that’s based on the same state law that’s helping to bolster an ongoing wave of builder’s remedy projects, the City of Burbank capitulated, approving the project with minor modifications.
“It’s good news,” said Sonja Trauss, executive director of YIMBY Law, the state housing group that filed the suit, “in that it’s good news for housing and the expectation of cities that the state law is real and there’s not any point in trying to fight it.”
A representative for Burbank’s planning department did not respond to a request for comment.
The now-approved Pickwick Project is slated to rise on the property that’s currently home of the Pickwick Bowl, a large bowling alley that was built in the 1950s and has plenty of local devotees. The developer is MW Investment Group, a firm based in Laguna Beach that previously built multifamily and commercial projects including Domain, a West Hollywood apartment complex that opened in 2017.
Matthew Waken, the firm’s principal, did not respond to a request for comment.
The 5-acre project will add to a slate of high-profile residential projects that have been cropping up in Burbank in recent years. In place of the bowling alley and a parking lot, Waken plans 92 three-story townhomes, ranging from roughly 1,200 to 1,900 square feet, with garages.
The development also includes an equestrian trail. The plan the city agreed to on Tuesday was largely unchanged from Waken’s earlier plans, although the number of units in the development was reduced from 96 to 92.
An entity connected to Waken bought two land parcels for the project for $21 million from Pickwick Recreation Center in July 2021. The same month his firm filed plans for the project in line with SB 35, a 2017 statute that aimed to increase the state’s housing supply by removing cities’ authority to approve housing projects if the state has deemed them out of compliance on their local housing plans.
To qualify under SB 35, 10 percent of units must be reserved for affordable housing. The law, which had received scant attention until this year, also serves as a kind of legal complement to another, older California “builder’s remedy” provision, which allows developers to bypass zoning requirements in cities that are out of compliance. To apply for the zoning bypass, the projects must have a 20 percent minimum affordable requirement; the previously obscure measure was abruptly cast into the national spotlight earlier this month after it emerged that Santa Monica, also out of compliance, was effectively forced to accept more than a dozen high-density projects that could remake the coastal city.
The same builder’s remedy tactic has been applied in Beverly Hills and Redondo Beach.
“SB 35 takes away our discretion,” Patrick Prescott, Burbank’s development director, acknowledged last year after Waken’s firm filed the Pickwick plans, a local news site reported. “This project will go through what the state intends it to be, which is to remove our discretion and require us to approve it if it complies with the state statute.”
The project plans prompted a public outcry, however, as dozens of residents, many of whom saw the Pickwick Bowl, a venue that sits next to a garden and ice arena, as a nostalgic community landmark. In April, even as Burbank had failed to meet its Housing Element requirements, the City Council voted unanimously to reject the application, arguing it didn’t meet SB 35 requirements because of zoning issues.
One councilmember blasted the residential plan as “jamming a square peg into a round hole” and warned it would “potentially [shatter] the Rancho neighborhood.”
Yet, even as the council voted against it, city officials said the opposition could prompt a lawsuit. YIMBY Law, which has also won a similar SB 35 battle in Santa Cruz, filed its complaint within weeks.
The post Facing YIMBY suit, Burbank approves Pickwick Bowl project appeared first on The Real Deal Los Angeles.
Powered by WPeMatico