Planners answer questions on Shadowbox  

An artist's rendering of what the intersection of Railroad Avenue and 15th Street in Newhall if the Shadowbox Studios project is approved. Courtesy Shadowbox

Santa Clarita planners answered a litany of questions from the city’s Planning Commission in a memo released Friday on the pending 93.5-acre Shadowbox Studios project in north Newhall and Placerita Canyon. 

The 18-page document looked at questions regarding an alternative version of the project, zoning, building heights, an oak tree report, the traffic study and project renderings for the full-service film and television studio. 

The memo was intended to address topics brought up during the most recent discussion of the plans for sound studios, office space and support services for a project with a financial impact that could reach into the billions, according to the project’s principal, Jeff Weber. 

“We’re proud of the work we’ve done to better this project by working closely with local residents and providing quality community benefits,” Weber said in a statement sent by John Musella, a spokesman for the project. “We believe this is an exciting opportunity, not only for Shadowbox Studios, but for the city of Santa Clarita. Our proposed studio campus is specifically designed to add to the rich fabric of Newhall’s filmmaking heritage and to meet the growing need for local sound stages.” 

The spread would include 19 sound stages at a height of 55 feet, the maximum allowable if the conditional use permit is granted. The stages would be at the center of the site, at just under a half-million square feet of space, surrounded by more than 1,500 parking spots, as well an 1,100-spot parking structure.  

To put the project in perspective, its 1.28 million square feet of project space is about three-fourths the size of Needham Ranch, a 1.7 million-square-foot industrial park that stretches across 250 acres just south of Eternal Valley, west of Sierra Highway. 

The first question addressed was regarding the reduced project alternative, which Commissioner Lisa Eichman asked about a few times, but otherwise has been little discussed to date. The development would have the same overall project footprint in the reduced alternative, according to planners, but there would be a reduction in employment of about 10% to 15%. The overall previous job-creation estimate was cited at approximately 2,000 for the full plans. There were also slightly lower impacts on air quality, energy and public services, among other areas.  

The zoning issues discussed in the memo refer to the area as having mixed-use neighborhood zoning, which, according to city planners, would allow for a studio with the CUP. The Placerita Canyon Special Standards District also offers no impediment for a studio, according to city planners.  

Teresa Todd, vice president of the Placerita Canyon Property Owners Association, said the canyon’s de facto HOA hasn’t taken a formal position on the project, but she has shared concerns about the project at two separate meetings.  

She shared a survey of residents conducted from August to October, prior to the release of the draft environmental impact report — which discusses how any potentially negative changes to a project’s surroundings could be mitigated — that indicated residents had “mixed feelings” about the project, she said. The survey had 73 respondents from 416 residences that were mailed, and 96% said they were familiar with the project; 47% said the project fits the canyon and 49% disagreed.  

Todd said the PCPOA has learned more since the draft EIR has been released, and shared dozens of pages of reports from consultants hired by the PCPOA that calls the city’s California Environmental Quality Act process “flawed,” which were also shared with residents at the group’s June 3 annual meeting. 

In the past, one of the PCPOAs main concerns residents brought up was traffic and circulation. The city’s memo Friday shared the city’s improvement plans, as well as diagrams and renderings of what the traffic situation will be like if the studio, which would have its frontage along Railroad Avenue with its main entrance on 13th Street, were completed before the city’s yearslong plan to extend Dockweiler Drive is completed, which could happen based on the proposed timelines. 

In that scenario, city planners note a range of service levels: The projected traffic at peak p.m. rush-hour times would have a grade of a D at Railroad and 13th, according to the developer’s study by Gibson Transportation Consulting; however, in the morning at Arch and 12th streets the grades would range from A to C. 

Another concern repeated by residents was that the limited number of access points to the studio — which planners have identified is partially a result of federal policies that govern railroad crossings — could cause a morning traffic backup at the studio’s main entrance. 

However, the developer’s traffic study indicates the project has adequate queueing space, “and will not interfere with nor will it back up onto any of the adjacent or nearby public streets.” 

The commission also asked for a look at similarly sized buildings in the area, and planners shared a chart that indicated the nearby Newhall Crossings building had a height equivalent to the sound stages, 55 feet, while the Old Town Newhall Library had a tower element that reached 67 feet and The Master’s University has building heights that range from 35 feet to 125 feet.  

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