Planning Commission holds another discussion on studio plans  

The proposed site for Shadowbox Studios in Newhall is one of two locations that will be toured during a Feb. 21 Planning Commission meeting. Bobby Block/The Signal

A 1.3-million-square-foot project planned for Placerita Canyon and north Newhall areas in Santa Clarita was once again in front of the Planning Commission, this time in response to an 18-page memo city planners created to help answer questions about the proposal.   

Shadowbox Studios, an international company that develops full-service film and TV facilities that are leased to content-producing major studios and online streamers, is looking to build 19 soundstages and support structures on a 93.5-acre lot.  

After an hourslong discussion of a project alternative, traffic questions, the evacuation plan and the development’s aesthetics, the hearing was continued a third time, with a date set for July 18.  

The meeting was another chance for city planners and the developer’s principal, Jeff Weber, to discuss some of the work done to address community concerns, noting on some issues, he might have to “agree to disagree” with the Placerita Canyon Property Owners Association, although he has held a number of discussions.  

One of the first concerns that Weber sought to address was a reduced alternative for the project, a review of which was requested by the city’s Planning Commission.  

The reduced alternative would have had a relatively similar overall footprint, according to the city’s report, and it likely would reduce a number of impacts by about 25%, through a similar reduction in the square footage of studio space and supporting structures.  

Weber told the commission he needed more time to study the reduced alternative to determine its feasibility, saying the project’s lenders and the company’s investors backed the project with specific expectations predicated on the project going through as proposed.  

He likened the current climate for such projects to a Rubik’s Cube, because if the project’s formula changes to address one concern, its possible unintended consequences could make the project not pencil out for its backers.   

He also said if the city needed an answer right now on the reduced alternative, which would probably create 16 soundstages, the answer would be no, it doesn’t work. But that’s because his team doesn’t have enough information and would have to work with its financiers to make an official determination.  

“Candidly, we think and hope we can figure this out, but the last thing that we need right now is to add yet another side for the Rubik’s Cube,” he said. “All of the data indicates that our project works as proposed.”  

Lynne Plambeck, president of the Santa Clarita Organization for Planning and the Environment, mentioned several concerns with the project’s environmental impact report and said in her years of reviewing such projects, she’s never seen a reduced project alternative that was so little discussed, especially considering that it lessened so many impacts.  

The other likely alternative if the studio project does not go through, which has been discussed a few times through the hearing process, would be a major housing development. Under state law, a developer could overbuild the city’s zoning density by as much as 80% if affordable housing is put in place of the studio. 

On Tuesday, representatives of the Placerita Canyon Property Owners Association once again shared their concerns about the traffic impacts.   

City planners identified several road upgrades deemed necessary before the studio could be opened, which are: a widening of the rail crossing at 13th Street and Railroad Avenue; the widening of 12th, 13th and Arch streets; installation of a four-leg signalized intersection at the intersections of 12th and Arch streets, Arch and 13th streets; and installation of a three-leg half signalized intersection of Dockweiler Drive and Placerita Canyon Road.  

Weber identified a 30-month construction timeline for the project, and the Dockweiler Drive extension, which would improve circulation, is about a two-year project that’s expected to start next summer. The city mentioned Tuesday that it planned to start several rounds of outreach over the project in the fall. 

A sticking point for Placerita residents has been repeated concerns about circulation in a fire and a request for a second at-grade rail crossing.  

City planners who reviewed the project said the circulation time for Placerita residents would be significantly improved with the addition of the project, due to road improvements being handled by the developer, as well the Dockweiler Drive extension project. The city’s planners and Shadowbox’s consultants have both stated there’s adequate queueing space inside the project’s gates that would make an additional access point unnecessary.  

“I know Shadowbox hired somebody who said traffic is going to be fine. Are we just supposed to believe that?” said Keith Shaw, a 20-year Placerita Canyon resident who also works in the film industry.  

He said he wasn’t necessarily opposed to the project, but he didn’t feel as though traffic concerns were being adequately addressed. He said he didn’t want to speak for everyone, but added that he bet a lot of opposition would disappear if there were another access point.  

Weber was under the impression from the project’s rail consultant that an additional rail crossing would be a nonstarter, because of state and federal processes for such an approval. The California Public Utilities Commission, which regulates crossings, has a stated policy that two crossings must close if a new one is to open, due to the agency’s preference for eliminating crossings where possible.  

However, it was also revealed during the hearing that the understanding of this policy prevented the applicant from contacting the CPUC, which was requested by the Planning Commission. The commission also asked for the city’s Planning Division to consult with the city attorney’s office to determine whether the city had any liability if it approved the project, which would be discussed at July’s hearing.  

The data and testimony from Placerita Canyon residents wasn’t all opposed to the project. In fact, a poll conducted last fall indicated that 96% were aware of the project and 47% felt it was appropriate, while 49% felt it didn’t fit in with the canyon.  

Paul Veluzat, a longtime canyon resident and owner of Melody Ranch, a well-known movie studio in the area, likened Weber to “Santa Claus,” because he went all over the world, delivering quality production facilities in London and Atlanta, and now Santa Clarita is the lucky recipient of his gifts.  

City staff anticipate a final EIR will be available for review July 6.  

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