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Comments pour in on Valley project

November 25, 2008|Jennifer Oldham | Oldham is a Times staff writer.

Hundreds of comments from homeowners and business groups poured in to city planners Monday expressing an array of opinions about plans to build an $800-million studio and office project on the Universal City corridor that would house NBC's West Coast headquarters. It's expected to take weeks for planners to sift through the details, but a sampling of the comments boiled down to this:

Homeowners' groups, and city and L.A. County officials who represent the southeast San Fernando Valley, fear the project would result in perpetual gridlock at key intersections and damage a historic monument, Campo de Cahuenga, on the site. Some business organizations, meanwhile, favor the plan because they say it would create thousands of construction-related jobs and help to retain entertainment industry positions in the Valley.

The closing of the public comment period marks another milestone in what already has been a months-long campaign waged by Thomas Properties to promote what would be among the largest developments ever proposed in the San Fernando Valley.

City officials and the developer hope to release a final environmental report, which under state law must respond to the public's comments, by the end of the first quarter of 2009 and hold public hearings on the proposal next spring. The L.A. County Metropolitan Transportation Authority, which owns the parking lot across the street from Universal Studios where the proposed development would be built, must also sign off on the plan.

The developer has been wooing Valley residents for months with an advertising campaign that included colorful postcards touting the project's economic benefits and informal gatherings over coffee. At one point, veteran developer Jim Thomas knocked on doors to talk up the project with residents. But in comments on the environmental report, neighborhood leaders questioned the premise that the project would benefit the region's ailing economy.

The study "indicates that this proposed project will provide needed office and production space for the entertainment industry," wrote Ben R. Neumann, president of the Studio City Neighborhood Council, in a 25-page letter to city planners. "We are not aware of any study that exists indicating that additional office/production space is needed."

The influential Valley Industry and Commerce Assn. offered another opinion.

"While there would be some impact to the community, VICA has determined that the impact will be relatively minor when compared to the significant benefits," wrote Greg Lippe and Stuart Waldman, chairman and president of the business group, in a two-page letter to city planners.

The development is one of several large and controversial projects proposed for a four-mile corridor stretching from Universal City to the upper reaches of North Hollywood that would include about 5,500 residences and millions of square feet of commercial and office space.

NBC/Universal has even bigger plans for its 390-acre studio lot across Lankershim Boulevard -- a $3-billion redevelopment proposal that would include 2,937 residential units, new production facilities and retail space.


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