SAN RAFAEL — Officials on Monday approved a controversial plan by filmmaker George Lucas to expand his digital empire on historic Marin County farmland.
After a daylong hearing, the Marin 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 Grady Ranch project have two weeks to appeal the commission's decision to the county Board of Supervisors.
The complex would be next to Lucas' other filmmaking operations — Skywalker Ranch and Big Rock — in Lucas Valley, named for a 19th century rancher and no relation to the 67-year-old maker of the Star Wars movies.
But neighbors say the giant complex will generate noise, traffic and environmental damage on pristine land about a half-hour drive north of the Golden Gate Bridge. They also argue that the project violates local zoning codes and application procedures.
Representatives of Lucasfilms Ltd. say the Grady Ranch facility will create hundreds of jobs in Marin County and the company has plans to minimize traffic and noise in the area. They did not immediately respond to requests for comment Monday evening.
Lucasfilm hopes to have the necessary permits in place and break ground by next year, with construction taking 18 months to two years.
The commission voted Monday after hearing several hours of arguments from supporters and opponents of the project.
"We're deeply disappointed," said Liz Dale, president of the Lucas Valley Estates Homeowners Association. "We're going to have to contemplate what our next alternatives would be because we disagree with this decision."