How Will Grady Ranch Impact Future Development?

During the San Rafael Airport's meeting, a few speakers mentioned George Lucas' failed plans for a production studio on Lucas Valley Road.

During the recent , several public speakers warned councilmembers about repeating what happened earlier this year with George Lucas' project for a production studio on Lucas Valley Road.

The comments, which elicited equal parts of hisses and applause from the audience, questioned if developers will avoid proposing projects in Marin that might be beneficial to the community due to fear of the planning process dragging on for years, as it did with Grady Ranch and the San Rafael Airport. 

The 270,000-square-foot production studio known as Grady Ranch was originally approved in 1996, but recent changes in the master plan, opposition from neighbors and state and federal permitting processes slowed the project until Lucas decided to withdraw the application in April 2012. The withdrawal resulted in a total of $216 million in lost revenue, as well as 690 jobs, the Marin Economic Forum estimated. 

The San Rafael Airport's soccer complex was first introduced in 2005. The recreation complex will have indoor and two outdoor soccer fields as well as spectator seating, offices, food and beverage service, meetings rooms and a two-lane bridge deck. After drafting an environmental impact report and several public hearings, the Planning Commission approved the project in 5-1 vote in June 2012 and the San Rafael City Council will make a decision on the project on Dec. 17. 

Airport Manager Robert Herbst said that if he knew then what he knows now, he might not have submitted the application. "We're dedicated in seeing this through, but it's been a long process," he said. 

The project's challengers contend that the plan poses a safety threat to soccer players, who will play in fields parallel to the airport's runway. Other concerns include the environmental impacts on the surrounding habitat from developing the land, the alcohol sales at the cafe and the increased traffic, lights and noise due to the activity at the complex.

Even if the council approves the proposal, Herbst said that airport officials are expecting a lawsuit to be filed from the surrounding homeowners and neighbor associations.  

San Rafael is not the only city in Marin with stalled projects. In Mill Valley, developer Phil Richardson bought land on Kite Hill near Camino Alto in 2004 to build . Richardson began the environmental impact review process in June 2006, but the Planning Commission met earlier this year to decide whether or not they should certify the project’s final Environmental Impact Report.

In Novato, after more than three years of inching through the city approval process, Urban One received the go-ahead from the City Council in December 2011 to construct a mixed-use complex on the undeveloped property just south of the Costco at Vintage Oaks Shopping Center. However, the major transformation of the Fireman’s Fund Insurance Co. headquarters in Novato into  

In Fairfax, Grateful Dead bassist Phil Lesh decided to relocate his music venue Terrapin Crossroads to the old Seafood Peddler restaurant in San Rafael after meeting opposition from neighbors.

After his experience with city planning, Herbst said he wouldn't be surprised if the failed Grady Ranch project dissuades developers from proposing large-scale projects that could take years until construction begins. As an alternative to the traditional planning process, he would advise developers to try to gather signatures to put projects on the ballot, a process Wal-Mart is currently doing to avoid environmental lawsuits. 

You tell us. Do you think Grady Ranch will dissuade developers from proposing large-scale projects? Should developers put their projects on the ballot instead of going through the traditional planning process? Tell us in the comments. 
Stephen Nestel December 10, 2012 at 07:24 PM
The similarity between Grady Ranch and the Airport Development is both are ignoring wise use planning and sound environmental planning. Both places have serious environmental risks. The Airport Soccer Complex also has a huge safety risk by locating within yards of a runway and would not be approved for government airports. To call everybody who doesn't buy development "NIMBY" chills honest dialogue. Another derisive term is SPRAWL which can be defined as "places I don't want to live". Marin has a 40 year history of smart planning and controlled growth. Let's protect it. For those who don't want to live here, I suggest moving to the urban environment you prefer. Please don't force your "suburban renewal" plans on us.
Mary Hanley December 10, 2012 at 08:39 PM
Perhaps if Developers dialed down their "need for greed", we wouldn't be having these battles. It's too easy for them to reject "any alternatives" to their projects as not being financially feasible. How much profit is enough to allow the destruction and degradation of the watershed, wildlife, and surrounding communities? The San Rafael Airport has been allowed to expand operations completely unchecked by City Planners. To go from a dirt, ranch airstrip to an Executive/Commuter/Industrial Park (www.sanrafaelairport.com). Still that is not enough.
Mary Hanley December 10, 2012 at 08:46 PM
It wasn't until details of the Soccer Complex went beyond the Sphere of Influence of the Mayor's office, Chamber of Commerce, and City Planners that others found out about the Project, causing State and Federal regulators to weigh in. Planning Commissioner and Architect, Larry Paul, knowingly situated the project site 160' from the runway and below sea level. City Staff ushered this project through and ran block for the Applicant, against all the protections we had fought so hard to keep in place, nullifying them one-by-one. The Applicant took a chance, rolled the dice (BTW loaded), hoping it would go through unchecked and just sail through. Herbst and their Aviation Consultants have consistently low-balled flight operations. At Public Meetings they state 5 flights per day while on this very site, they state 25. Even the City can't tell us the correct average number of flights per day. As they have told us from the beginning, Airport Operations and the Soccer Complex are two different entities. After 7 years, we still have not seen a report or information on the impact of night operations (landings) which have steadily increased since 2006 when the Airport extended, widened, and upgraded their runway and lights. The only restriction the City currently places on Airport Operations is limiting it to 100 planes and a big "R" (Restricted) painted on the runway. Pathetic.
Kevin Moore December 11, 2012 at 12:38 AM
The NIMBY label cracks me up. I guess I am suppose to be worried about being PC and being called a NIMBY, but it's been over played, I simply don't care after hearing it for 20 years. The interesting thing is that many people calling Marin residents NIMBY's are the real NIMBY's. Marin is Not In Their Back Yard. If you don't live here, if you don't pay property taxes (ownership or rent), if you don't have an investment in the community, then you are the NIMBY since this is in not your backyard.
Kevin Moore December 11, 2012 at 12:51 AM
EIR's have been the weapon of choice to stop any development for a long time. All that has been proven is money does not matter once the EIR card is played, even a billionaire with a great track record can be stopped. Forget it if you are a homeowner or small developer. Billionaire stopped is the only new milestone. I believe the soccer development might be stopped due to worrying about native birds more than children being hit by a crashing airplane. PS. Lucas is re-cutting the original Star Wars. In the new version, Luke blows up the Death Star by serving it with an EIR report ruling. The Death Star commander reads it, walks over, and pushed the self-destruct button. Talk about The Force.


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