City Seeks to Speed Approval for Building Plans

Burbank’s Community Development Department is looking to hire a number of workers who its leader believes could cut in half the amount of time needed to check building plans — mainly for residential projects — and issue permits.

The City Council added about $1.5 million to the CDD’s budget this fiscal year, which began July 1, to pay for roughly a dozen new employees and consultant services. Several of those workers, once assigned, will work on matters relating to local development, and according to CDD Director Patrick Prescott will greatly alleviate the strain on the department’s planners, as will changes to local development policy.

Prescott estimates that the department will hire its new workers in about a year, though he hopes to fill the roles sooner. The CDD has needed the extra staff, he added, for about half a decade.

“It’s been pretty clear to us that we have not been adequately staffed for the workload,” Prescott explained. “It’s just really unprecedented, [the] demand for services.”

The CDD said in its budget request for this fiscal year that those in the new positions would reduce plan check time frames, helping to get small residential projects approved in three to four weeks instead of four to six weeks. Some of the consultants it seeks to employ will respond to permit requests accessory dwelling units — secondary housing units on residential lots — while others will help tackle the department’s backlog of pending projects.

Those consultants, the department claimed, could reduce project review time from 12-14 weeks to six to eight weeks within about 16 months.

The new employees will include an associate planner, who will join the staff members handling plan checks, the development of new single-family homes, discretionary permits and other short-term projects. A principal planner will handle long-term projects, such as updating local zoning codes in accordance with state law.

Currently, Burbank’s city planners each have a workload of about 80 projects, the CDD noted in its budget. Neighboring cities such as Glendale and Pasadena, it added, have about 50 projects per planner.

Planners have also struggled to handle a flood of local interest in accessory dwelling units. Prescott said. He estimated that his department received about 200 applications for ADUs in the past year. Housing agencies in California have often looked to the small structures, constructed adjacent to larger buildings such as single-family homes, as a way to help address the state’s housing crisis. As part of that push, California’s housing department requires municipalities to address ADU applications within 60 days.

Prescott said that cutting down the amount of time it takes for the department to address applications, however, will also require streamlining the development process for some projects. About five years ago, he said, community members pushed for new policies regarding the development of single-family homes. Those policies soon proved onerous and difficult to implement.

“We have our front-line workers, the folks who do the planning, the plan checking, who are working R-1 [single-family home] standards currently to see how can we improve this process and still ensure the integrity of the neighborhood is preserved,” Prescott said, adding that doing so will require some community outreach. “We do not like how long everything is taking.”

For instance, Prescott explained, a resident living in the hillside area who wants to build a swimming pool on a flat pad must apply for a hillside permit, though a neighbor a block away doesn’t. Such a requirement, he believes, unnecessarily lengthens the development process and should be removed.

The CDD said in its budget request that about $655,000 of the costs of its new positions and consultants will be offset by fees charged to applicants. The department is also hiring a homelessness services coordinator and an administrative analyst to help provide services to people in Burbank experiencing homelessness.