SAN FRANCISCO -- Only weeks after neighborhood complaints forced filmmaker George Lucas to abandon plans to convert a renovated Marin County ranch into a state-of-the-art film production studio, the cinematic auteur is now working with a local community group to develop the site for low-income housing.
For over a decade, Lucas had hoped to convert Grady Ranch into a facility boasting indoor and outdoor sound stages, a daycare center, a restaurant, gym, a bevvy of screening rooms, nearly two dozen overnight guest suites, parking for over 200 cars and a "wine cave" to store libations from Lucas' vineyards.
However, much like Luke and Leia, there are many reasons why it didn't work.
Despite striking a deal to keep the Empire out of cloud city forever (a.k.a. unanimous approval from Marin County's Planning Commission) and Lucas's promise to devote 95 percent of the acreage to conservation, the nearby Lucas Valley Estates Homeowners Association opposed the project. Members of the association feared the venture would bring additional traffic into the well-heeled residential area and the years of construction required could harm the area's natural environment.
"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 Lucasfilm spokesperson Lynne Hale in a statement to The Huffington Post. "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."
Lucas has been a part of the largely residential community since the 1970s, when the filmmaker constructed his famous Skywalker Ranch "filmmaker's retreat" in the bucolic Marin county hamlet of Lucas Valley, which went by that name long before the "Star Wars" creator moved in.
The studio's decision to abandon its designs for Grady Ranch (and the over $300 million in economic activity and hundreds of jobs the construction alone would have brought into the area) set off a shock-wave across the county. Marin supervisors begged the filmmaker to reconsider, saying they would partner with him to counter any lawsuits filed by the neighborhood group and vowing to approve the project without any restrictions.
The reaction from many Marin residents was similarly strong. One member of the Lucas Valley Estates Homeowners Association's board claims have to received death threats, and the group's Facebook page is packed with angry comments calling the organization, among other epithets, "a bunch of NIMBY morons."
Liz Dale, president of the Lucas Valley Estates Homeowners Association, said she was surprised by the decision [to abandon the project].
"We are glad we don't have to worry about the potential impacts we were worried about," Dale said. "We don't want to describe it as good news or bad news, but I can understand why another location would be better for this type of facility."
Lucas is now working with the Marin Community Foundation, an affordable housing advocate, to transform the property into residences for Marin's low-income population.
"Mr. Lucas thinks that second-best use of the land is for affordable housing," foundation president Dr. Thomas Peters told The Huffington Post. "Affordable housing is a poignant and growing need in Marin County. Marin has the oldest population of any county in the state and the need for affordable housing among seniors is large."
Brian Crawford, head of the county's Community Development Agency, noted that housing is not a new idea.
"Before the Lucasfilm proposal for Grady Ranch, the site and the adjacent community have long been planned for housing by the county's land use regulations," Crawford said. "If affordable housing is eventually included in a future development proposal, it would help us meet our housing goals."
Marin communities, widely noted for their affluence, have traditionally been hostile to the construction of any in-fill development, especially of the below-market-rate variety, but Peters has pledged to work with Grady Ranch's neighbors to iron out any kinks. "In Marin, there are some strong NIMBY forces at work," he said, "but we take these projects one at a time and make every attempt to reach out to the neighbors to address any issues they have--such as how new affordable housing construction will affect their property values."
While it's too late to rebuild the proverbial Death Star in Marin, other communities in the Bay Area are chomping at the bit to get Lucas to move in. Earlier this week, Walnut Creek's city manager sent the filmmaker a letter asking Lucas to consider relocating to the East Bay suburb.
"I think the qualities Walnut Creek has to offer clearly give us a good shot," Walnut Creek Mayor Bob Simmons told the Contra Costa Times. "Whether it's what Lucasfilm is looking for, I don't know. It would bring a whole different dimension to Walnut Creek."
Check out this short biography of George Lucas: