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Environmental Study OKd for Sony Studios Expansion Project


CULVER CITY — An expansion plan for Sony Pictures Studios moved a step closer to reality last week when the Culver City Planning Commission approved the project's environmental impact report.

The Planning Commission voted 3 to 0 to recommend that the City Council approve the report, a legally required tool used to evaluate the proposed project itself.

The City Council is scheduled to hold a public hearing on the two-volume, 3-inch-thick environmental study on Aug. 31, with Sept. 1 reserved for spillover. If the City Council certifies the report, possibly at its Sept. 14 meeting, Planning Commission hearings on the project itself will begin in October.

At a public hearing Wednesday, the Planning Commission took more than two hours of testimony on whether the report sufficiently covers all the bases.

The expansion plan would turn the 44.7-acre studio lot at Overland Avenue and Washington Boulevard into a corporate headquarters for Sony Pictures Entertainment, parent company of TriStar and Columbia Pictures.

Construction plans call for nine buildings more than four stories tall, a shopping arcade and a helipad.

Speakers showed overwhelming support for the report and for Sony Pictures Studios, a landmark production facility in a city that prides itself on its movie-making heritage.

But several speakers said the study did not adequately address the impact of traffic or tall buildings and helicopter flights.

Resident Carol Gross said the environmental report needed to address traffic on Braddock Drive, a popular shortcut to the San Diego Freeway.

The report concluded that 38 intersections would be significantly impacted by the project but that the impact could be reduced to less than significant if all suggested mitigation measures are taken.

Gross criticized the overuse of one strategy: removing on-street parking and adding left-turn lanes.

"That seems to be the favorite mechanism, again and again," she said.

Resident Pat Karlow read a letter from the pastor of the 105-year-old St. Augustine Catholic Church, which would be shadowed on winter mornings by a proposed 11-story building.

Msgr. Ian E. Holland wrote that shadows would cause "premature darkening of the interior." He worried that helicopter noise would disrupt daily services and weekend funerals and weddings.

Staff answered questions from the audience and commission that had not been officially addressed. Questions from the 55-day review period after the March release of the study are answered in a companion volume to the report called "Response to Comments."

Questions raised Wednesday that need more research will be answered in a memo to the City Council.

But in the end, the commission gave its approval.

"I can't think of anything else that needs to be covered. . . . My sense is we should move along with this," Planning Commissioner Edward Wolkowitz said.

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