Santa Clarita residents Tuesday filled Council Chambers at City Hall and an overfill room for the city’s first meeting back from its summer recess and a discussion of a billion-dollar project that Shadowbox Studios developers also promise will bring thousands of jobs to the area.
The plans for a 93-acre full-service film and television studio with 19 soundstages and its supporting facilities were recommended for approval by city staff Tuesday.
Santa Clarita City Council members unanimously approved the staff recommendations for the project’s approval just before 11 p.m. Tuesday following more than 90 minutes of public comment and more than an hour of discussion on the dais.
The majority of public comments were in support, with advocates saying the project has an opportunity to transform the area in a positive way and provide a massive boost to the local economy.
One of the first things City Councilman Cameron Smyth mentioned as a positive about the project is that it isn’t being proposed as a major housing development because the city would have had little say in the approval if it had been, due to state laws that encourage housing density as a means to address a statewide shortage.
“This is the first time we have seen a proposal for this property that hasn’t included a significant number of housing units,” Smyth wrote in a text Tuesday, “and given the continual consolidation of land-use decisions by the state, it’s critical the city has final say where the community has the ability to provide input.”
It was also brought up during Tuesday’s discussion that the property was purchased from a developer that had initially planned to use the property for that purpose.
After dozens of residents and local business interests commented on the project, City Council members questioned the consultants on the project who compiled hundreds of pages of data for city staff to review as part of the project’s environmental impact review.
The staff’s recommendations called for council to approve a zoning change and a general plan amendment as part of the process to move the plan forward.
Councilwoman Laurene Weste recused herself from the discussion to avoid a potential conflict of interest because she owns land in Newhall adjacent to the project site.
What supporters brought up over and over again was how the project not only makes sense just north of Railroad Avenue, adjacent to where the city has tried to build and promote an arts and entertainment district for years. It could also bring as much as $1 billion annually in regional investment, according to Jeff Weber, who represents Shadowbox on the project.
Weber started his comments as the project applicant by thanking all the residents and local businesses that expressed their support over the last several years while Shadowbox worked on community outreach prior to Tuesday’s hearing.
The project went through four public hearings in front of the Planning Commission before ultimately receiving its recommendation for an approval from the group in July, shortly before both groups took their summer recess.
Opponents of the project, a group largely made of neighborhood residents, talked about how the project would disrupt life in the rural, equestrian community that had been zoned as a special standards district recognizing its unique collection of million-dollar homes and horse properties tucked into Placerita Canyon.
The claims made Tuesday on the number of horses still living in the canyon ranged wildly from a handful to more than 170, although the numbers were not able to be verified as of the publication of this story.
Both the local chapter of the Sierra Club and the Santa Clarita Organization for Planning and the Environment voiced hydrology concerns for the project, particularly how it will affect Placerita Creek, which they said should be respected and not channeled.
Lynne Plambeck, president of SCOPE, said the project was part of a wildlife corridor, and that the council had a responsibility to balance the environmental concerns with the potential financial benefits of the project.
During the Planning Commission review of the project, residents’ most oft-cited concerns were for traffic in and out of the area, as well as the canyon’s evacuation routes in an emergency.
City planning staffers backed the conclusion reached by Shadowbox’s consultants, which noted that the project’s traffic plans significantly improve the local circulation in normal circumstances as well as in an emergency.
Both the city and Shadowbox have committed to traffic improvements in the area responsible for the improved local travel times.
The road changes include the widening of the rail crossing at 13th Street and Railroad Avenue; the widening of 12th, 13th and Arch streets; the installation of a four-leg signalized intersection at the intersections of 12th and Arch streets, and Arch and 13th streets; and the installation of a three-leg half-signalized intersection of Dockweiler Drive and Placerita Canyon Road. The extension of Dockweiler Drive, a city project, is expected to cut local commute times on Railroad Avenue in half, according to a city analysis.
The project previously was opposed by representatives of union interests who spoke during Planning Commission hearings on the studio to express their concerns that there was no commitment to using union labor.
Those concerns appeared to be allayed as of Tuesday, with a number of interests noting the project’s general contractor has now made such a commitment.
Weste recused herself from the discussion of the project as someone who owns land involved in a property swap the city approved in order to make the Dockweiler Drive extension possible.