Shadowbox Studios project moves on to council  

Jeff Weber of Shadowbox Studios discusses his outreach efforts on behalf of the project Shadowbox is proposing for parts of Newhall and Placerita Canyon in April. Perry Smith/The Signal
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Buoyed by a recommendation for approval, Shadowbox Studios on Tuesday discussed its efforts to work with city planners and its neighbors in the company’s effort to put a full-service film and television production facility in North Newhall and Placerita Canyon. 

The Planning Commission followed the recommended action from city staff and sent the plans for a 93.5-acre development to the City Council, which will have final say on approval due to zoning changes requested by the applicant. 

Despite a number of meetings with local residents and mitigation measures that city and project officials report will improve circulation in most respects, not everyone was on board Tuesday. 

A pair of supporters spoke favorably of the project — principal Jeff Weber said he had asked supporters who had previously spoken in support to hold off during its fourth discussion in the interest of focusing the hearing on any “final” questions from the commission. 

Ultimately the Planning Commission signed off on the project’s draft final environmental impact report, with the council expected to discuss the matter after it returns from summer recess next month.  

Those in support included Robert Younkin, president of the Old Town Newhall Association.  

Younkin said the project would be vital to continuing city momentum on the upgrades to the Main Street area by providing much-needed foot traffic for local businesses. Looking at the big picture, so to speak, he also said the project would encourage the confidence for continued investment in the area. 

While Weber applauded the city’s contention the project contained no environmental impacts that couldn’t be properly mitigated — an assertion challenged by local environmentalists — what’s undeniable is that the project would transform the area surrounding residences and Placerita Creek with 19 soundstages in about 1.3 million square feet of development. 

The opposition included those concerned about the project’s environmental impacts, neighbors who continued to voice worries about traffic and emergency circulation routes, union interests, as well even a few grounds where those interests reached a confluence.  

A few of the neighbors said that when the city upheld the Planning Commission’s denial of the Sand Canyon Resort and Spa being planned for a special standards district in 2021, it cited some of the same concerns that residents are mentioning, such as traffic and circulation concerns. 

“If you’re going to protect the Sand Canyon Special District, you also need to do that for Placerita Canyon,” said resident Diane Trautman, who was one of more than two dozen who expressed opposition. 

Previously, city staff have noted that there’s nothing in a special standards district that would prohibit a studio; however, the applicant’s request for the project also asks the city to change about 50 acres of the site in an expansion of the city’s job creation overlay zone, which would allow for the 50-foot-tall soundstages.  

Ty Green, counsel for the canyon’s neighborhood group, called the EIR for the project “bullet-riddled” versus being bulletproof, particularly, he said, because the document’s errata contained new information — that the project’s final approval was no longer dependent on completion of the Dockweiler Drive extension project. 

Previous discussions of the Shadowbox and Dockweiler projects noted the two works would be conducted on separate timelines, but ones that could basically run concurrently. Weber estimated the construction timeline for the soundstages and support structures to be about 30 months from the time work begins.  

Senior Traffic Engineer Ian Pari said the extension is estimated to take about 24 months to complete, and the city expects to begin work next year.   

The City Council approved the alignment of Dockweiler Drive to connect to Railroad Avenue at 13th Street in 2018, with a $3 million contract for the design awarded in 2021. The extension, which is a shared-cost project between the city and The Master’s University, is expected to improve pedestrian, bicycle and vehicle circulation, ease traffic congestion on Newhall Avenue and offer an additional emergency access roadway for Placerita Canyon residents, according to city officials.   

There are several changes to the area that are required before the studio opens: 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.  

A number of union groups spoke in opposition to the project, largely because Weber has not already committed to using union labor exclusively. CreedLA, a coalition that works to ensure projects use union labor, contended there were multiple deficiencies in the EIR. 

Weber previously has said such a commitment at this stage of the project would be “putting the cart before the horse” because Shadowbox has not yet hired the general contractor, who would be the one to make such determinations. 

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