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SAN RAFAEL -- An organization representing neighbors of a proposed 270,000-square-foot Lucasfilm digital movie production studio in Lucas Valley northwest of San Rafael has appealed the recent project approval by the Marin County Planning Commission.

[caption id="attachment_50930" align="alignleft" width="300" caption="Rendering of the proposed 270,000-square-foot digital movie production studio at Grady Ranch. Lucas Valley Estates Homeowners Association objects to the height and appearance of the building, among other project details."][/caption]

Lucas Valley Estates Homeowners Association, which represents 174 dwellings southeast of the 52-acre project site, filed an appeal late Friday afternoon to the Marin County Board of Supervisors. The appeal challenges the county Planning Commission's Feb. 27 unanimous approval of the precise development plan, including the film-production building with integrated daycare, overnight guest rooms and employee restaurant, and certification of the supplemental environmental impact report.

A hearing on the appeal is currently scheduled for the 1:30 p.m. session of the April 3 board of supervisors meeting, according to Tom Lai, assistant director of the Marin Community Development Agency.

"It was all the same issues that were raised before," he said about the appeal petition.

The basis for the appeal, according to the four-page filing, is "all points raised in public comment letters."

The approved 1996 project master plan and environmental impact report and the 2012 precise development plan and accompanying environmental report have "insufficient details and information," according to the filing.

"The significant departures from the 1996 plan should require an amendment to the master plan and a new EIR," the document said. "There are risks to public safety and impacts  to private property that have not been adequately studied and/or not properly addressed."

Specific allegations in the appeal petition are:The precise development plan is a phasing and segmentation of the Grady Ranch project not allowed under CEQA.Notification of neighbors was lacking and inadequate for the what amounted to a change in zoning in the 1996 master plan and environmental report and for the availability of the draft supplemental environmental impact report earlier this year.There was insufficient time to review the plan and its supplemental environmental document.A proposed restoration of a creek running along the Grady Ranch property doesn't have enough information about risks to downstream public and private property owners, and the monitoring program isn't adequate, enforceable or provide owner recourse.Intensity of land use is beyond that of the approved 1996 master plan.Building heights and impacts on views from neighboring properties exceed the constraints of 1996 approvals.Risks of erosion from grading, including raising a knoll to screen the building from neighbors, haven't been adequately addressed. Impacts to protected steelhead trout in the creek weren't adequately studied. A proposed geoexchange building temperature-control system in the knoll is outside the scope of the 1996 plan and has inadequately assessed risks.Hours of operation changed from the 1996 plan, the impacts of which change haven't been properly addressed and can't be enforced.A proposed "outdoor sound stage" is outside the scope of the approved master plan, and its uses and hours of operation haven't been adequately studied.Traffic and noise studies in the supplemental environmental document aren't adequate.The new development plan doesn't comply with standards for visual impact, light pollution and building heights.  

These matters were discussed during the six-hour Feb. 27 Planning Commission meeting, split between public testimony and discussion between commissioners, county planning staff and supplemental environmental impact report consultants, and at lengthy hearing in December.

For example, Commissioners Don Dickenson and Randy Greenberg at the February meeting repeatedly asked for clarification on whether there would be more development allowed at Grady Ranch because the precise development plan called for a smaller main production building and incorporation of 40,000 square feet of uses in separate day-care and lodging buildings in the 1996 plan into the new proposal for the main structure. He said he didn't want "banking" of up to 100,000 unused square feet from the master plan for future projects there and wanted conditions of approval to "extinguish" the right to square footage of uses incorporated in the building.

"I'm concerned that we're overreaching our authority at this point," Commissioner Katie Crecelius said.

The commissioners eventually agreed to a condition that any future proposal use the remaining master planned square footage.

Tom Forster of Skywalker Properties, which manages filmmaker George Lucas' real estate holdings, on Wednesday said the Grady Ranch project has been challenged before.

"There was opposition to this master plan in 1990s, with an appeal and lawsuit, which did not last long," he said.

Depending on whether it is taken to court, the Grady Ranch project would still have additional steps to go through before construction could begin. For water, sewer, fire-protection and ambulance services, the site would need Local Area Formation Commission approval for annexation into those districts. Because grading is allowed only between mid-April and mid-October, that part of the estimated two-year project would start in 2013 if the project approval stands this year, according to Mr. Forster.

Construction and operation of the studio would create 690 jobs in Marin, including 460 during the excavation, stream restoration and landscaping, and structure phases of the estimated two and a half years to complete the project, according to Robert Eyler, Ph.D., a Sonoma State University economist and interim head of the Marin Economic Forum. Skywalker Properties asked him to analyze the economic impact of the project.

"There are economic impacts for the construction industry, which has been hurting for years and for high-tech, and both of those are targeted industries in the countywide plan," he told the Planning Commission last month.

For each $100 million spent on construction, the Marin economy would benefit from $133 million in related local economic activity, not including $4.9 million in state and local taxes, Dr. Eyler said. For each 100 employees hired for filmmaking, the county would have 276 total jobs created, bringing local businesses $82 million in annual revenue and $3.8 million a year in taxes.

"This is a large jobs generator and will be for some time," Dr. Eyler said.

Cynthia Murray of the North Bay Leadership Council told the Planning Commission that her group was originally formed in Marin because businesses felt their contributions to the economy weren't being appreciated.

"I want to remind the commission that a company like Lucasfilm is one that any community would covet," Ms. Murray said. "These companies have choices about where they can be. It would create the kind of jobs that people need to live in this county."