Proposal Would Permit Supportive Housing in Single-Family Zones

The Burbank City Council recently voted to move toward updating the local zoning code to allow the construction of service-supported housing in single-family zones — a change officials emphasized was required by state law.

Council members voted 3-2 on Tuesday to introduce the proposed ordinance. If it is adopted during the council’s June 22 meeting, the zoning code would state that supportive and transitional housing — affordable units accompanied by services for participants in private social agencies’ programs — can come to neighborhoods zoned for single-family residences. 

The code already allowed supportive and transitional housing in some commercial areas and medium- or high-density residential zones. 

Supportive and transitional housing projects are subject to the same density, size and other requirements as other residences in the same zone. For example, supportive or transitional projects in single-family residence zones would have to be single-family homes. Development of supportive housing would be permitted by right — or without needing the city’s discretionary review — in single-family zones.

Despite concerns voiced by some community and council members and the city’s Planning Board that the changes would upend residential neighborhoods, municipal staff members reminded the council that these updates have effectively been the rule for years.

Associate planner Shipra Rajesh explained that California law has required cities and counties to consider supportive and transitional development proposed in residential areas since 2008; Burbank incorporated that requirement into its housing policy — but not its zoning code — when updating it in 2014. Rajesh attributed the delay in the zoning regulations to longstanding difficulties with low staffing levels.

Fred Ramirez, Burbank’s assistant community development director, also told council members that failing to update the zoning codes could prompt California — which is seeking to address a widespread need for housing — to reject the housing plan the city is submitting this year. The state’s housing department could then sue the city or make Burbank ineligible to receive state grants.

“There’s a big stick tied to noncompliance, which maybe in the past wasn’t as direct,” Ramirez said. “But this time, we’re well aware of the … implications of noncompliance.”

Despite Community Development Department officials’ assurance that the updates wouldn’t change the character of local neighborhoods, some officials remained apprehensive. Burbank’s Planning Board balked at city staff members’ recommendations during an April meeting, worrying that the code changes would ruin the look and feel of Burbank’s single-family areas.

The issue prompted intense debate among board members, who floated a few different failed motions that failed to receive a majority vote. Ultimately, they declined to recommend that the City Council change the zoning code aside from some minor adjustments to temporary shelter regulations. 

“If we don’t have a say in our community, in how we want to shape it,” said Planning Board vice chair and Realtor Christopher Rizzotti, “and we’re not as a city willing to fight back … at what point do we get to say, ‘We have zoning laws on our books and we want to adhere to it’?” 

Some of that apprehension was also visible during Tuesday’s City Council meeting. Sharon Springer voted against the changes to the zoning code, saying she was worried that potential residents would have to compete with supportive or transitional housing developers when trying to purchase a home.

Mayor Bob Frutos also voted against the changes, but did not give his reasons for doing so. He did not respond to the Leader’s requests for comment.

Council members and city staff members who advocated for the changes to the zoning code noted the city risked punishment from the state if it doesn’t comply with California’s mandates. They also pointed out that Burbank hasn’t seen a rush of supportive and transitional housing units even though the updates being considered have been in effect via state law for years.

“When people say it’s commercial, we’re talking about low-income people being able to live in an environment that allows them to live independently and get the services they need,” said City Attorney Amy Albano.