At City Hall Tuesday, planning commissioners heard more from Placerita Canyon residents concerned about how a full-service TV and film production facility could forever change their quiet equestrian community, while city staff offered up how the proposal, especially in rush hour or an emergency, could improve circulation for the fire- and flood-prone canyon.
The hearing was the city’s second for the billion-dollar Shadowbox Studios project, which promises to bring 2,000 “quality, high-paying jobs” to the area, as well as about 1.3 million square feet of construction to the largely undeveloped swath of land north of Railroad Avenue.
After an April hearing that mentioned the inevitability of development for the land — and most likely, lots of housing, if there’s no studio — the second discussion focused on questions about the traffic study, emergency access and oak tree preservation in the Shadowbox plan.
Members of the Planning Commission appeared pleased with the answers to their questions from last month’s hearing, for the most part, with the commission staff to bring back a resolution for an approval, with conditions, at the next Planning Commission meeting.
“At this point, I’m satisfied. I don’t have any additional demands for information,” said Tim Burkhart, vice chair of the Planning Commission, after a little over three hours of staff presentation and public comment Tuesday.
He praised the city’s traffic reports for their clarity and noted the city staff observation that Placerita Canyon evacuation times could be cut in half once the work is complete.
Teresa Todd, acting as a spokeswoman for the project’s largest opposition group, the local Placerita property owners’ association, unsuccessfully pleaded with the commission for more time for the project’s public-comment period, which is scheduled to end Monday.
“May I just say, an extension is absolutely warranted for all the work that we have put into this review and have yet to go. I understand this development brings potential economic benefits to Santa Clarita. There are several issues that must be addressed before moving forward,” Todd said.
Burkhart said while the draft EIR covered a lot, it wasn’t close to the most complex the commission has seen, and that unless there was a legal concern, the time-extension request felt unwarranted.
One lingering question by Commissioner Lisa Eichman raised again Tuesday was why an alternative version of the project identified by city staff in the draft EIR was not the recommended project being discussed, in light of the potential environmental impacts identified in the proposal being considered.
“I don’t see it very often where that’s the superior one,” Eichman said, questioning why the version of the project chosen is the one being discussed, as opposed to the one deemed “superior” in terms of its lesser environmental impacts.
Hunt Braly, a partner at Poole & Shaffery, which was hired as a consultant on the project, said all the potential significant impacts identified in Shadowbox’s current plans could be mitigated.
“We did not write the draft EIR — the city and their consultants did. The alternatives in the draft EIR are not from us,” Braly said. “So, if you want to … propose tonight giving direction to staff to come back with a project, an approval on June 20 to indicate the conditions you want to have them consider … and if there’s a majority who want to say you want it to be (the reduced alternative), that would be your direction. That’s not up to us. Right now, we’re not in a position to say whether that would work or not. You certainly have the ability to do that.”
The Placerita Canyon Property Owners Association, the Santa Clarita Organization for Planning and the Environment, and Creed LA expressed concerns with the conclusions city staff and consultants put in the draft EIR regarding the environmental and traffic impacts.
Todd said the main concern with the entrance at Arch and 13th streets is that it’s the only access point, creating a potential traffic mess. She also mentioned the preservation of a heritage oak, which was brought up numerous times last month, and the potential for flooding.
She said the group paid to commission its own traffic study the day the draft EIR was released, and only received the study late Monday evening.
In addressing the question of preserving one particularly old oak, which was identified by developers as needing to be removed for the project’s viability near the middle of an area designated for catering, an arborist hired by Shadowbox said that wouldn’t be a good idea.
Calling the tree structurally unsound, Kerry Norman said he “wouldn’t have lunch under that tree. I wouldn’t take a nap under that tree. I wouldn’t park under that tree.”
While the timing of the necessary road work on Dockweiler Drive with respect to the facility was questioned multiple times over both meetings, traffic engineers estimated a two-year construction plan for the Dockweiler Drive extension — which was forecast to cut the commute for the length of the project on Railroad Avenue from 12 minutes to six at rush hour.
Jeff Weber, Shadowbox’s representative for the project, said the timeline for Shadowbox would be approximately two and a half years and that he was confident the two projects could be accomplished simultaneously.
“If we’re fortunate enough to receive approval in the next few months,” he said Tuesday, “then we would hopefully be able to commence construction of our project sometime in the first quarter of 2024.”
The Planning Commission is expected to consider an approval of the draft EIR and a recommendation to forward the project onto the City Council, with certain conditions, at its June 20 meeting.