- Associated Press - Monday, February 27, 2012

SAN RAFAEL, CALIF. (AP) - County officials on Monday approved a controversial plan by filmmaker George Lucas to expand his digital empire on historic farmland north of San Francisco.

The six-member county planning commission unanimously voted in favor of the proposal to build a 270,000-square-foot digital media production compound in a quiet valley that has been home to Lucas‘ Skywalker Ranch for three decades.

Opponents of the project have two weeks to appeal the commission’s decision.

The complex would be next to Lucas‘ other filmmaking operations _ Skywalker Ranch and Big Rock.

But neighbors say the giant complex with generate noise, traffic and environmental damage on pristine land about a half-hour drive north of the Golden Gate Bridge.

Lucas representatives say the Grady Ranch facility will create hundreds of jobs in Marin County and won’t lead to the traffic and noise residents fear.

THIS IS A BREAKING NEWS UPDATE. Check back soon for further information. AP’s earlier story is below.

NICASIO, Calif. (AP) _ Luke Skywalker would be proud. A rebel alliance has formed in the hills north of San Francisco to fight a perceived Evil Empire.

The alliance is a group of Marin County homeowners. Their phantom menace is George Lucas, the world-renowned filmmaker whose Star Wars Trilogy sky-rocketed him to acclaim and fortune.

The plot is simple: Lucas wants to expand his filmmaking empire in the quiet valley that has been home to his Skywalker Ranch for three decades, building a 270,000-square-foot digital media production compound on historic farmland known as Grady Ranch. Neighbors say the massive structure will constrain their lifestyle with additional noise, traffic and harmful environmental impacts on the pristine countryside.

But the plot thickens. Other neighbors say Lucas has been a stellar neighbor and a steward of the land who has protected massive swaths of agricultural acreage from housing developments, while bringing jobs and tax-paying residents to the community.

It will all play out before what is likely to be a wide audience at the Marin County Planning Commission meeting on Feb. 27.

Residents of Lucas Valley Estates, a subdivision of 174 midsize to upscale homes about a half-hour drive north of the Golden Gate Bridge, are leading the charge against Grady Ranch. They believe the latest Lucas compound is simply too big for Lucas Valley, named for a 19th century rancher and no relation to the 67-year-old filmmaker.

“This is really the last gateway of historic farmland up here,” said Liz Dale, an economist who specializes in land policy. “This is a nonsensical location.”

The neighbors say Lucasfilms Ltd. pulled a stealth move on them, quietly taking a master plan that was passed in 1996 by the county supervisors, and then presenting a revised plan before the planning commission in December with what they say was little public notice.

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