Steven Spielberg may churn out hit movies at the box office, but his latest production is getting scathing reviews from homeowners in a rustic Brentwood neighborhood.
Hollywood's most successful movie director is quietly making plans to build a five-story, 27,000-square-foot indoor riding ring and stables for his wife, actress and horse lover Kate Capshaw.
But neighbors--including Hollywood producers Brian Grazer and Roger Gimbel--see the hangar-like structure as an imposing Temple of Doom. And, fearing a negative impact on property values, they vow to fight the project unless Spielberg dramatically scales back his plans.
The proposed equestrian facility, complete with a domed, retractable roof, subterranean stables and a spectator platform, is roughly six times the size of a typical home in the distinctively low-key neighborhood. If plopped in one end of the Rose Bowl, it would stretch well past the 50-yard line.
"It's out of keeping with the neighborhood and out of proportion to the surroundings," says veteran TV producer Gimbel, a 30-year resident who lives next door.
Neighbors have been told by Spielberg's team, which includes architect Michael Kovac, that the entire project will probably cost more than $7 million. That doesn't include the $5.75 million Spielberg spent to buy the 2.8-acre property in 1999.
Andy Spahn, a senior executive with Spielberg's entertainment company DreamWorks SKG, promises that neighbors' concerns will be taken into consideration.
"The plans are still in formation, and we're just getting into this process," Spahn said. "Are we going to be able to please everyone? No. But we'll come a long way toward easing peoples' concerns."
Chipped in Spielberg's longtime publicist Marvin Levy: "We'll at least listen."
A Los Angeles Zoning Administration hearing is scheduled for Jan. 4 in West Los Angeles to consider variances requested by Spielberg. He then can appeal to an area planning commission and ultimately the City Council if he's not satisfied.
Representatives of Spielberg and neighborhood opponents have met with City Councilwoman Cindy Miscikowski's staff. A spokeswoman for Miscikowski, who said the councilwoman is out of town, did not want to comment further. Handling the project is GLM Associates, a Calabasas consulting firm that has worked on other major Los Angeles development projects.
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Spielberg and his DreamWorks partners, David Geffen and Jeffrey Katzenberg, are veterans of much bigger city real estate wars. They successfully lobbied the city for a generous package of incentives during their ill-fated attempt to build a studio at Playa Vista. The proposal was withdrawn last year after financing problems and intense opposition from environmentalists.
So far, the Brentwood project appears to be sailing through City Hall.
The Los Angeles City Planning Department favors waiving requirements for an environmental impact report as long as certain conditions are met, according to city records. These include hauling manure from the site at least twice a week, cleaning stalls daily and building an automatic insect control system.
A zoning report by city planners concludes that "no significant impacts are apparent which might result from this project's implementation."
Try telling that to Gimbel, Grazer and other neighbors whose nearby homes--worth between $2 million and $8 million--abut the Spielberg property. Determined to fight the plans, about a half-dozen nearby homeowners have retained land use attorney John Murdock, a veteran of zoning disputes. Two months ago, Murdock successfully obtained a court order blocking plans for an amphitheater as part of the expansion of the Getty Villa art museum in Pacific Palisades.
"It's just astounding and obnoxious," Murdock said after viewing the Spielberg site last week along with some of his angry clients. "They're cutting out half the hillside to put in this riding ring . . . the structure is completely alien to the area."
According to documents filed with the city this month, Spielberg is requesting six zoning variances, including raising the height of the riding ring facility to 54 feet--18 feet more than the legal requirement.
Under the law, the riding ring should be smaller than the residence. But Spielberg's plans call for an equestrian facility more than 10 times the size of the 2,400-square-foot "bunkhouse." The blueprints include a three-story gatehouse where caretakers will live.
Spielberg is developing the project through a company called Texas Tart LLC. Spahn and Levy said they do not know what "Texas Tart" refers to. Capshaw, whose credits include "How to Make an American Quilt" in 1995 and "The Love Letter" last year, was born in Fort Worth, Texas.
Spielberg, 54, and Capshaw, 47, married in 1991. She starred opposite Harrison Ford in 1984 in Spielberg's "Indiana Jones and the Temple of Doom."
The couple, who live only minutes away in Pacific Palisades, don't plan to reside in the Brentwood house.
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