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EDITORIAL:It may be legal, but not right

April 28, 2007

The City Council's 4-to-1 vote on Tuesday approving a two-story office project on Magnolia Boulevard prompts concerns over how much discretion council members have in pushing projects through without adequate public scrutiny.

The vote was the result of a fair process. The council asked questions, had concerns about the impact of the project, requested that changes be made before making a decision.

And that's what voters elected them to do. But voters also deserve a development approval process that holds projects up to public input.

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In this case, development standards were followed, the project went through the proper channels — from the Community Development Department to the Planning Board to the council.

But even though perfectly legal, the vote seems to have undermined the public's ability to offer input because the council was able to pass a resolution, making its own changes to the project, without a chance for a public response to those changes.

The public had an opportunity to comment on the project before the council discussed it Tuesday night, but the developer had changed the project since the Planning Board's denial, so they were commenting on a slightly different project.

On top of that, the council made substantial changes to the project before approving it Tuesday night.

Thus the community has yet to comment on the project that was ultimately approved.

The council's changes were fairly significant. The maximum height of the building went from 35 feet to 30 feet.

And the council also required building setbacks to be increased to 5 feet on the north side of Magnolia to allow for a landscape buffer zone, and to 7 feet on Evergreen Street.

So while the council did hear from residents, and had a general idea of what they wanted, shouldn't residents have an opportunity to weigh in on the final design before it's approved?

This process of the council making substantial changes to a project and then approving it may be perfectly legal, but it's not quite right.

Why not ask for the changes and then bring it back for public hearing before approval?

Sure, the many Burbank residents concerned with this proposed project can speak their minds before the council makes the second and final vote, but the council's decision is essentially made.

It approved the project; and this council rarely changes course at that point.

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