Filmmaker George Lucas received the green light Tuesday to convert 61,162 square feet of office space at his Big Rock Ranch office complex in Lucas Valley into 57 guest units.
The Board of Supervisors voted unanimously to approve an amendment to the master plan governing Lucas’ use of the complex at 3838 Lucas Valley Road.
The project also calls for upgrades to existing food facilities, expansion of a general store, the creation of additional meeting areas and the conversion of a child care area into a spa and expanded fitness facility.
When the project came before the Planning Commission earlier this month, questions were raised about additional water use, wastewater disposal and how the property might be used if Lucas sells it later.
On May 9, however, the commission voted unanimously to recommend that supervisors approve the amendment.
“This is an exceptional landowner with a stellar track record,” said Supervisor Steve Kinsey. “With all that said, they still play by the same rules, and that is the way we want it.”
Two speakers during the meeting expressed doubts.
Steve Lewis, president of the Nicasio Land Owners Association, said that while his association has complete faith in the integrity of Lucas, it remains concerned that the language of the amendment is ambiguous enough that some future owner of the property might take unfair advantage.
“I along with many homeowners in Lucas Valley creek are watchful and concerned about water use and water resources because in a drought year it becomes critical,” said Lewis, whose home is adjacent to Lucas’ Skywalker Ranch.
And Judy Colby, who lives on Nicasio Creek, said, “Our well is shallow. I’m concerned about the future.”
During summer months, some wells in Nicasio Valley go dry.
In a letter to the Planning Commission prior to its hearing, Watershed Alliance of Marin wrote, “There will be more meals, showers, toilet usage, garbage, food and other shopping needs. This project needs to be evaluated as if a small hotel were going in.”
Tom Forster, a spokesman for Skywalker Properties, Lucas’ property management company, said, “We’re not seeking to create a hotel. It won’t be open to the public.”
Forster said it is unknown if the three wells that supply water to Big Rock Ranch divert water that is migrating north toward Redwood Canyon or south toward Nicasio.
Lucas is seeking approval from the Regional Water Quality Control Board to construct a gray water/water recycling system on the property that would reduce water usage by an estimated 40 percent. Forster, however, said there is no guarantee the board will grant approval.
Colby asked supervisors to make their approval of the master plan amendment contingent on the water control board’s approval of the proposed gray water system.
Kinsey said, “Given that this property will still be substantially below the 300 persons and guests that could be allowed under the existing use permit and master plan, we do not need to do that.”
Lucas owns five ranches in Marin County. The master plan for his Big Rock and Grady ranches was approved in 1996. Grady Ranch was approved for up to 340 employees and overnight guests while Big Rock Ranch was approved for 300 employees and daytime guests only. Construction of the $87 million, 184,700-square-foot complex began in 2000. Initially approved for use as a multimedia center, it includes a private theater, cafeteria with dining room, day care and fitness center, as well as archive storage.
Over the years it has housed the nonprofit George Lucas Education Foundation, Skywalker Properties administrative staff, and Lucasfilm Animation, which moved to the Presidio in 2006. The conversion to guest units will entail no additional building area or exterior changes.
Forster said Lucas has indicated his willingness to work with the Nicasio Land Owners Association to address their concerns about the ambiguous language in the amendment. Supervisors approved the amendment, however, without incorporating any changes. Lewis said his association is concerned that the amended master plan places no limit on the number of daytime guests to Big Rock Ranch.