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George Lucas loses NIMBY clash over giant digital arts complex

The "Star Wars" filmmaker had hoped to build a 260,000-square-foot technology production facility about 30 minutes north of San Francisco. But neighbors didn't want the project.

George Lucas lost a battle to build a new technology production complex in Marin County, California, just down the road from his existing Skywalker Ranch property, seen here.
Daniel Terdiman/CNET

George Lucas lost a bruising battle with neighbors in a bucolic Northern California valley Tuesday over the "Star Wars" impresario's plans for a giant technology production complex.

According to the San Francisco Chronicle, Lucas failed to win approval for his new 263,701-square-foot project last week, and rather than wait for more studies, as neighbors in the Lucas Valley area of San Rafael--about 30 minutes north of San Francisco--had wanted, the filmmaker decided yesterday to scrap his plans altogether.

Lucas needs to open a new complex by next year, and grew tired of waiting for approvals to build on land known as Grady Ranch. Instead, the Chronicle reported, he seems resigned to look elsewhere for a home for the project.

"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," said a letter to the community from Lucas' Skywalker Properties. "The residents of Lucas Valley have fought this project for 25 years, and enough is enough. Marin is a bedroom community and is committed to building subdivisions, not business."

The letter said Skywalker Properties -- tired of constant delays in getting approval for plans despite bending over backward to meet and often exceed environmental demands -- will now sell Grady Ranch and build in a place that is more likely to accommodate the company's need to open up shop in 2013.

"We have several opportunities to build the production stages in communities that see us as a creative asset, not as an evil empire, and if we are to stay on schedule we must act on those opportunities," said the letter. "The land will revert back to its original use for residential housing. We hope we will be able to find a developer who will be interested in low income housing since it is scarce in Marin."

For years, Lucas maintained parts of his digital arts empire in San Rafael, including Industrial Light & Magic and Lucasfilm. But when Marin County wouldn't approve another giant project, he moved ILM and Lucasfilm into San Francisco's Presidio. However, he still runs at least two divisions in Marin -- his sound studios at Skywalker Ranch, located down the road from Grady Ranch, and the surround sound development division THX.

Although Lucas is known as a good neighbor and had agreed to set a significant part of Grady Ranch aside as open space, locals worried the new project wouldn't fit into the rolling green hills and valleys of Lucas Valley.

"We may be viewed [as NIMBYs], but we also know that these decisions and plans rely on many factors," Liz Dale, president of the Lucas Valley Estates Homeowners Association, told The Chronicle. "It may not have been the best site for this project. We're sure they are doing what they think is best."

But others worry that the loss of the Lucas project will be an economic missed opportunity for the community.

"Were saddened and stunned," Rachel Warner, interim environmental coordinator for the Marin County's Community Development Agency, told The Chronicle. "It's very unfortunate. It's a big economic loss for us and unfortunately it just plays right into that stereotype of NIMBYism."