George Lucas to build affordable housing in one of the richest parts of America

After residents living near George Lucas' Grady Ranch protested his planned studio into nonexistence, the film magnate made different plans for the land.

Michelle Starr Science editor
Michelle Starr is CNET's science editor, and she hopes to get you as enthralled with the wonders of the universe as she is. When she's not daydreaming about flying through space, she's daydreaming about bats.
Michelle Starr
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George Lucas. Image by Nicolas Genin, CC BY-SA 2.0

When "Star Wars" creator George Lucas planned to build a Lucasfilm production studio on his Grady Ranch property in the affluent Marin County, California, he was met with staunch opposition. The local residents protested the project, citing increased traffic, ruined views and potential damage to the local environment. In 2012, Lucasfilm announced that it had scrapped the 263,701-square-foot 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 neighbours," the company wrote in a statement in April 2012.

Prior to Lucas' purchase of the land, the 1,000-acre Grady Ranch had been zoned for residential use, and the company planned to sell it so that it could revert to that use. Less than a month later, however, the Marin Community Foundation announced it would be working with Lucasfilm to develop affordable housing on the land.

After three years in stasis, working with the regulations that govern affordable housing grants, George Lucas now plans to foot the bill himself -- to the tune of upward of $150 million. This not only allows the project to proceed without jumping through those hoops -- it also means that the housing can be allocated to specific groups, such as seniors, nurses and teachers.

The preliminary proposal submitted to the County of Marin late last week outlines a 224-unit complex to be situated over 52 acres just north of San Rafael. This consists of 120 two- and three-bedroom workforce residences, and 104 one- and two-bedroom residences for seniors.

The complex would also include a community centre, a pool, an orchard and small farm, a barn, interior roadways and a bus stop.

Marin County is one of the most affluent locations in the US, with a median household income of $90,839, and 7.7 percent of people living below the poverty line. According to his lawyer, Gary Giacomini, Lucas said, "We've got enough millionaires here. What we need is some houses for regular working people."

When the proposal was first announced back in 2012, there was a predictable backlash from residents, who believed that affordable housing would bring crime into the area and lower property values; and head of the North San Rafael Coalition of Residents Carolyn Lenert said that the project was "inciting class warfare".

While this has led some to speculate that Lucas' plans for affordable housing are motivated by revenge, the film magnate's previous philanthropic efforts would indicate otherwise.

On the sale of Lucasfilm to Disney in 2012, 70-year-old Lucas pledged the $4.05 billion proceeds of the sale to education. He has also set up an educational foundation, Edutopia, and has signed the Giving Pledge, a promise to will at least half his fortune to charity.