George Lucas’s new digital media production facility will move forward now that the Marin County Planning Commission approved the project after hours of discussion.
Monday’s meeting was the last public hearing to be held on the environmental documents and the merits of Lucas’ plan for a 270,000 square foot digital production studio nestled in the hills off of Lucas Valley Road. Planning Commissioners unanimously approved the plan, with Commissioner Peter Theran absent.
Grady Ranch will include administration offices, an employee restaurant, a general store, a wine tasting room, screening rooms, costume storage, dressing rooms, 20 overnight employee guest suites, a basement parking garage and an outdoor stage, according to the staff report.
The project, which was approved along with its environmental impact report in 1996, is in its second phase. The project also includes a restoration plan for the nearby Miller Creek.
Some residents, who showed opposition to the project by wearing red at the public meeting, were concerned about the project’s size and impact on the surrounding neighborhood.
Scale of the Project
When Hillary Sciarillo and her husband bought their home in Lucas Valley, the sellers didn’t inform them that ‘an industrial estate the size of the Civic Center’ would be built next door.
Sciarillo is one of several who are worried about the property values of their homes with the new digital studio. “I wouldn’t want to buy a home knowing that was there,” she said.
LucasFilm representatives say they intend to make Grady Ranch nearly invisible to passers-by, but many still think the project is “Hearst Castle revisited,” as Nona Dennis from the Marin Conservation League said.
Others were concerned about possible noise from the facility’s outdoor stage that would occasionally be used for filming. Most of the production will take place inside the studio.
For others, it’s the building’s appearance. “It’s cringe-worthy,” North San Rafael resident Mary Feller said. “This project is not consistent with Marin County.”
Economic Boost to Marin
While some Lucas Valley and North San Rafael neighbors worry about the scale and the noise, many are excited about the potential jobs that could follow during the construction and after Grady Ranch is completed.
Robert Eyler, interim CEO for non-profit Marin Economic Forum, estimates that around 460 construction jobs will be needed for building the facility. Once Grady Ranch is operating, the employees hired to work there will be earning an above average wage, which will boost the local economy.
For every one employee at Grady Ranch there will be 2.76 jobs for Marin overall, which could create $82 million in business revenues alone, Eyler estimates.
“It’s really tough to find a business to headquarter in Marin that’s going to give the county such a boost,” he said.
The Marin Builders Association (MBA), a non-profit that serves the construction industry, also supports the project due to the jobs it would create for hundreds of unemployed workers.
“We are an important part of the community and we are in crisis,” said Aimi Dutra, president of the MBA.
Cynthia Murray, who heads public policy advocacy organization North Bay Leadership Council, agrees that Grady Ranch is a good addition to the county due the high-paying jobs it will provide.
“These companies have choices on where they can be,” she said. “It is a crown jewel for Marin to have them here.”
Living Locally and Being Neighborly
Cindy Johanson moved to Lucas Valley thanks to the George Lucas Education Foundation, located on the Big Rock Ranch in Nicasio. As executive director of the foundation, Johanson enjoys living a few miles from her workplace. To her, the ability to live locally is key to a healthy economy for the county and would attract many potential employees to Grady Ranch.
When it comes to being neighborly, “LucasFilm’s 30-year track record should speak for itself,” Johanson said
Although it is not required by the the project’s master plan, LucasFilm has provided emergency services to the surrounding area, because George Lucas believes that “that’s what good neighbors do,” Skywalker Properties representative Tom Forster said.
Of the total land, 95 percent of it is for the Marin Agricultural Land Trust, a non-profit that preserves farmland in Marin County. That property could never be developed, according to Forster.
“You can take all of Corte Madera and all of Larkspur and fit them into the open space,” he said.
Since the Planning Commission approved the project and certified the environmental documents, construction will begin as soon as LucasFilm obtains permits, unless the decision is appealed.
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