Lucasfilm abandons studio project

Faced opposition from California county

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SAN FRANCISCO — George Lucas’ empire is striking back in its long-running battle to build a palatial film studio in the pastoral hills north of San Francisco.

Lucasfilm Ltd., the force behind the “Star Wars” movies, shocked Marin County on Tuesday by announcing that it is abandoning the controversial Grady Ranch project, citing bitter opposition from neighbors and delays in the approval process.

The company said it would build its new digital media production studio elsewhere and hopes to sell the historic farmland to a developer interested in constructing low-income housing.

“We love working and living in Marin, but the residents of Lucas Valley have fought this project for 25 years, and enough is enough,” the company said in a statement. “We have several opportunities to build the production stages in communities that see us as a creative asset, not as an evil empire.”

The Grady Ranch project would have marked a major expansion of Lucasfilm in Lucas Valley, which has been home to its Skywalker Ranch for three decades. The bucolic valley is named for a 19th-century rancher with no relation to the “Star Wars” creator.

File - In this Feb. 17, 2012 file photo, George Lucas is shown arriving at the 43rd NAACP Image Awards in Los Angeles. Lucasfilm Ltd., the force behind the Star Wars movies, said it has abandoned plans to build a big digital production studio on historic farmland in northern California, citing opposition from neighbors worried the environmental impact. The company owned by filmmaker George Lucas said it planned to construct new facilities elsewhere. (AP Photo/Matt Sayles, file)

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File - In this Feb. 17, 2012 file photo, George Lucas is ... more >

The plan called for a 269,000-square-foot complex that would include a 51-foot-tall mission-style compound with two 85-foot towers, two indoor sound stages and a large outdoor stage. There would be screening rooms, guest housing, a general store, an employee cafeteria and a wine cave.

The company and its backers said the new production studio would generate hundreds of high-paying jobs and tax revenue. Lucasfilm hoped to break ground next year in an area about 15 miles north of the Golden Gate Bridge.

But the project generated strong opposition from homeowners and environmentalists who feared it would increase traffic, noise and environmental damage - despite company promises to preserve open space and reduce its impact on the community.

The Marin County planning commission unanimously approved the studio project in February, but opponents appealed that decision to the county Board of Supervisors last month, leading to further delays.

“The level of bitterness and anger expressed by the homeowners in Lucas Valley has convinced us that, even if we were to spend more time and acquire the necessary approvals, we would not be able to maintain a constructive relationship with our neighbors,” Lucasfilm said in the statement.

Liz Dale, president of the Lucas Valley Estates Homeowners Association, said she was surprised by the decision.

“We are glad we don’t have to worry about the potential impacts we were worried about,” Ms. Dale said. “We don’t want to describe it as good news or bad news, but I can understand why another location would be better for this type of facility.”

Ms. Dale said any proposed housing development on the property would have to be “suited to the zoning, the people who live here and the people who come here.”

Local business leaders who championed the project said they were devastated.

“It sends a very disturbing message to any company thinking about growing or starting in Marin,” said Cynthia Murray, president of the North Bay Leadership Council. “It’s a model project. If this project can’t get approved, I don’t know what project can get approved.”

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