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Burbank council nixes Walmart appeal

Big-box store 'committed' to opening in Burbank, but the company says it will still challenge judge's ruling against building permits.

November 09, 2013|By Daniel Siegal, daniel.siegal@latimes.com

A ruling that slammed the brakes on efforts to bring a Walmart to the city will not be appealed by city officials. But Walmart officials said Friday they do plan to file an appeal.

The ruling handed down by Judge Allan J. Goodman in September rescinded the building permits issued for the former Great Indoors store adjacent to the Empire Center, in which Walmart planned to open a store.

During closed session on Tuesday, Mayor Emily Gabel-Luddy, Vice-Mayor Dave Gordon and Councilman Bob Frutos voted not to appeal Goodman's ruling, while council members Jess Talamantes and Gary Bric voted to file an appeal.

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Gabel-Luddy said she believed from the get-go that the project was subject to a traffic study and required discretionary approval from city staff because Walmart planned to include a grocery store at the location, which the ruling stated was not permitted by the property's zoning unless directly approved by the city manager and director of community development.

That never happened.

“I think the former city manager was overly eager and should've taken a much more careful and deliberate look at the land-use rules,” Gabel-Luddy said.

Gordon said Thursday that he couldn't go into detail about his rationale for voting against appealing the decision.

“Well, it was my opinion, it was not the appropriate thing to do at this time,” he said.

Bric said he couldn't comment on matters discussed during closed session.

Rachel Wall, a Walmart spokeswoman, said the company will continue its efforts to open the store as soon as possible.

“We are committed to the Burbank store and to bringing business back to the long-vacant, former retail space,” she said in an email. “Our customers in Burbank are looking for a choice for affordable goods closer to where they live and work, and the community has been eagerly awaiting the hundreds of construction and permanent good jobs the store will create, so we intend to follow through with the appeal.”

She added that Walmart officials think the permits were granted properly.

“[They] should be treated no differently than the 1,300 similar permits granted for other Empire Center businesses since 2000,” she said.

At the heart of the lawsuit filed by Burbank residents Shanna Ingalsbee, Katherine Olson and Yvette Ziraldo were uncompleted street improvements outlined in an ordinance approved by the Burbank City Council 13 years ago.

The improvements include more turn lanes at key intersections on Buena Vista Street at Victory Boulevard and Empire Avenue.

Regarding the street improvements, Goodman ruled that “the city has violated its obligations to complete the [traffic] mitigation measures for the specified roadways by the time of completion” of the Empire Center, which opened in 2001. 

After hearing about the council's decision, plaintiff Shanna Ingalsbee said she was pleased.

“We appreciate the strong leadership of Mayor [Gabel-] Luddy and Councilmen Frutos and Gordon,” she said.

The ordinance also recommended a plan for monitoring the impacts of those mitigations.

The effect of Goodman's ruling is that the city has to either add the street improvements or it must convincingly show that they are not needed.

City Attorney Amy Albano did not respond to requests for comment on Thursday.

During the meeting, however, she said Goodman's ruling meant “that the city would need to basically start the process over if it wanted to go ahead.”

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Follow Daniel Siegal on Google+ and on Twitter: @Daniel_Siegal.

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