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How Will Grady Ranch Impact Future Development?

During the San Rafael Airport's meeting, a few speakers mentioned the 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. 

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