In a land where make-believe wars are created regularly for moviegoers and television viewers, an all-too-real battle over community growth is brewing among Burbank business executives, developers and homeowners.
The battleground is the so-called "Media District," a square mile in southwest Burbank that is home to several major motion picture studios, NBC Studios, St. Joseph Medical Center and an increasing number of high-rise office buildings. It is also the home of about 5,000 Burbank residents.
Two years ago, city officials were hoping that the end of the recession would spark commercial development and construction in the Media District, which is part of the West Olive Redevelopment Project, one of Burbank's three redevelopment zones.
The officials' dreams now seem to have come true with a vengeance, and residents say that they already are the victims of too much congestion.
City planners claim that, with the development of the nearly completed 21-story Cushman office building and other committed projects, only 4 million more square feet of development can be accommodated before rush-hour traffic at crucial intersections becomes choked to the point of gridlock. Of that, 2.2 million square feet of property already has been completed or approved for development. Projects that would add another 5 million square feet have been proposed.
In an effort to put a cap on development, Community Development Director Larry Kosmont has unveiled a preliminary plan for the district that would limit the expansion of long-standing institutions such as NBC Studios and the Burbank Studios, which houses Columbia Pictures and Warner Bros.
The city is considering imposing height and density limits on any expansion projects. It also may offer property owners incentives to build instead on selected sites separate from their present locations--sites within the district where development is most needed.
"This plan allows for growth of all the major studios, and it doesn't stop them from developing their property," said Barbara Lazar, a city planner for Burbank. "NBC has an eight-acre undeveloped site. The way things are now, with no control, they could put a million-square-foot building on the land. Of course, the city could not handle that. We want to limit, but we're not cutting anyone off."
Ever since the preliminary plan was first unveiled at a $2,000 city-sponsored dinner earlier this month, the early reviews have been anything but glowing. Although most of the affected developers have declined to comment on the plan, homeowners and officials from NBC and Warner Bros. wasted little time in attacking it.
"This new limit of space allocation is an almost ex post facto thing, and we find it very disappointing," said Fred Kigerl, vice president of materials and services for NBC. "This restricts development that we have been considering for a long time. We've been part of this community for 25 years. I don't understand the full problem, but this restriction will have serious financial impact for us."
On the other front, residents who live in the Burbank and Toluca Lake communities say the restrictions do not go far enough in controlling development, which they claim is destroying the community atmosphere.
"Ever since 1977, the city took much advice from the developers and not enough from real people," said Bradley Howard, 33, who has lived in neighborhoods around the Media District all his life. "There were too many guys who were babes in the woods, farmers who saw land and said: 'Hey, here's some land. Let's develop it.' . . . There was just no planning."
"Let's face it, everyone is screaming bloody murder and we're being chewed alive on both sides," Burbank City Manager Robert (Bud) Ovrom said. "There's at least 5 million square feet of development that wants to take place, and the studios are saying that any restrictions will hurt them. But the citizens are screaming: 'Hell, no, no more development, even 1.8 million square feet is too much.' "
Neighborhood Meetings Set
Some Burbank city officials, including Kosmont, are saying that the criticisms are premature because the plan is not final and was only introduced to generate comment from developers, property owners and residents. Four neighborhood meetings are scheduled next month to get comments from residents. Staff studies on traffic and the environmental impact are also being conducted.
By late fall, Kosmont said, all of the comment and studies will be compiled into a report to the Planning Board and the City Council, which will make the final decision regarding the future of the Media District.
Kosmont said he began to notice capacity problems last year at the start of construction of the eight-story Screen Actors Guild building, as well as the Cushman and M. David Paul office buildings.