As the Marin Community Foundation seeks development of a low- and moderate-income housing complex at Grady Ranch, county officials have concluded that an affordable project of about 240 units is allowed there under current zoning.
On the other hand, the 236-acre tract owned by filmmaker George Lucas could accommodate a 48-home market-rate subdivision.
Foundation CEO Thomas Peters, noting there is a "clear distinction between what the planners cite as may be allowed ... (and) what the Marin Community Foundation may apply for," said the philanthropic institution will seek developers qualified to proceed with an appropriate affordable project. Its size remains uncertain.
The land in Lucas Valley seems destined for affordable housing following a debacle in which plans for a huge film studio generating hundreds of jobs and millions of dollars in tax revenue collapsed under the weight of red tape, neighborhood opposition, fears of a lengthy court battle and a watershed restoration program regional agencies regarded as flawed.
An 11th-hour effort by county supervisors to salvage the movie studio proved to be too little, too late and finger-pointing erupted on all sides.
Lucasfilm, citing "the level of bitterness and anger expressed by the homeowners in Lucas Valley," threw in the towel, saying, "enough is enough." The firm noted it had been a good citizen providing many community benefits, boosted the economy and preserved 5,000acres as open space in Lucas Valley — while spending four years "with no end in sight" trying to get a permit for a project less intense than one it had received approval for years earlier. The company added that while it would build its studio in another county that regards it as "a creative asset, not as an evil empire," it planned to sell Grady Ranch for housing development.
"We hope we will be able to find a developer who will be interested in low-income housing since it is scarce in Marin," Lucasfilm said in April. "If everyone feels that housing is less impactful on the land, then we are hoping that people who need it the most will benefit."
To that end, the Marin Community Foundation, which has made affordable housing development a priority, stepped in as a planning partner. Peters, who has met with Lucas to discuss the matter, said two key aspects of the collaboration with Lucasfilm are under way.
"First, the foundation and Lucasfilm are concluding our internal discussions about the overall parameters for the project, including property and siting issues," Peters said. In addition, the foundation is developing a "request for qualifications" that will be "the template for affordable housing developers to indicate their interest, experience and capacity to successfully develop a project of this scope," he said. "'Scope' means we will require a design that's beautiful, green, accessible and affordable."
Peters added: "We look forward to engaging with the community and regulatory agencies as well. I remain fully confident that an environmentally-sensitive, beautifully-designed addition to the neighborhood will also be a dream come true for families and seniors."
He noted a developer "must demonstrate the capacity to build in the top-tier of esthetic design while meeting functional requirements" and added the "number and layout" of housing units will be a decision made later and is "not at all set yet."
Brian Crawford, head of the county Community Development Agency, said the development potential ranges from a subdivision of 48 market rate homes to an affordable housing complex of about 240 dwellings.
"The zoning and general plan allow both attached (apartments) or detached single-family homes, as well as senior or nonsenior, market rate and affordable," he said, adding a 114-home plan was once approved for the ranch.
"Within our existing regulations, a housing project with up to approximately 240 units could be proposed without seeking a rezoning," he added. "The actual number of units the site could accommodate would be determined through the review of a new development application."
One consultant who has worked for Lucas in the past said the number of allowable units, with density bonuses, could be up to 320.
One big benefit: Lucas spent several million dollars on consultants and reports, providing the county with stacks of detailed information about the site's development potential. "Determining the appropriate number of homes on the site should be the outcome of evaluating how a future proposal responds to those constraints and opportunities within the context of the countywide plan," Crawford said.
Lucasfilm spokeswoman Lynne Hale said the company looks forward to an affordable housing project.
"The Marin Community Foundation is a wonderful organization with a great track record on projects such as this, and we are happy with their progress to date," she said. "We are confident that the foundation is going to find a developer who will be able to build affordable housing that is both beautifully designed and environmentally sensitive."
Hale called the effort an opportunity to help those in need.
"Since we are unable to use the land for Lucasfilm's studio, we are glad it can be used for people who need it the most," she said.