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North Bay Business Journal

Tuesday, April 3, 2012, 7:24 pm

Grady Ranch decision delayed on regulator concerns

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    SAN RAFAEL — The Marin County Board of Supervisors today listened to two hours of testimony for and against filmmaker George Lucas’ proposed Grady Ranch digital movie studio project northwest of San Rafael but put off action on an appeal of earlier project approval, agreeing with staff that newly obtained input on the project from state and federal regulators on the project needed further consideration.

    “Because of comment letters we received from resource agencies, it’s the recommendation of county counsel and Community Development staff not to take action at this time,” board Chairman Steve Kinsey said at the beginning of the afternoon public hearing on the appeal.

    No date has been set for the appeal to return to the board for action, but Supervisor Kinsey said the public would have more than the required timeframe for notices of public meetings, perhaps a week or two.

    Just before the hearing, county staff received comments from San Francisco Bay Regional Water Quality Control Board, state Department of Fish & Game and National Marine Fisheries Service zeroing in on the grading and stream-restoration aspects of the project.

    “It was not until a few days ago we became aware it was 90 percent through project review” through the regulatory agencies, Tom Lai, assistant director Marin Community Development Agency, told the supervisors.

    Mr. Lucas’ Skywalker Properties is seeking concurrent processing of applications through the Marin Community Development Agency and through a number of regional, state and federal regulatory agencies via the Joint Aquatic Resources Permit Application (JARPA) paperwork streamlining process. Promoting concurrent project review is something county planners wants to use more often to streamline long permitting processes, Mr. Lai said.

    The regulators said that the assessment by experts that prepared the supplemental environmental review documents of the causes for increased sediment and bank erosion downstream from the project site were not deeply channeled beds for Miller and Grady creeks plus stream bank collapse but rather steep hillsides prone to slides. Also fingered by the regulators in risking the flow of water in the creeks in late summer is the amount of excavation for the building and its impact on recharging groundwater connected to the waterways.

    Skywalker Properties has proposed changes to the project as a result, using the 68,000 cubic yards of fill that would have gone to raise the bed of deeply channeled Miller Creek to spread around a planned berm screening the building from neighbors, county planning staff told the supervisors.

    The three-hour hearing today resulted from an appeal by the Lucas Valley Estates Homeowners’ Association, which represents 174 homes along Lucas Valley Road near the 52-acre project site, of Feb. 27 unanimous county Planning Commission approval of a precise development plan for the Grady Ranch project and certification of a supplement to the environmental impact report on the approved 1996 master plan covering changes in the recent proposal.

    The new regulator comments and the proposed project revisions significantly change the description of the project in the supplement to the environmental report for the approved 1996 Grady Ranch master plan, necessitating revisions to the document that would need another period of public review and comment, according to Michael Graf, an El Cerrito-based environmental law attorney representing the homeowners association.

    “The EIR description must match the project being approved else you would have a legal matter that would be straightforward to challenge in court,” he told the supervisors.

    Commenters supporting the appeal before the board today pointed to these regulatory comments — going back to the end of last year — as “new information,” a potentially significant trigger under the California Environmental Quality Act for further study before project approval.

    Rachel Warner, Marin Community Development Agency acting coordinator of environmental review, told the supervisors that the appearance of these regulator comments so late in the county review process has been incorrectly characterized as a “hide-the-ball approach.” She said that applicable regulators received copies of the various iterations of the supplemental environmental review, and comments from Fish & Game on the draft report were addressed in the final version.

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