George Lucas to his weathly neighbors: if you don’t want my new studio, I’ll sell my land for affordable housing

An interesting NIMBY battle is continuing in Marin County, California between George Lucas and his neighbors. Here is the latest:

Skywalker Properties abandoned the plans in an acerbic two-page letter [PDF] to its neighbors: “Marin is a bedroom community and is committed to building subdivisions, not business,” it read. (“It was, by his own admission, a bit edgy,” Peters says.) The letter concluded by suggesting that if people felt the land was best suited for more housing, Lucas would aim to sell it to a developer who would at least create the kind of housing Marin really needs: not more million-dollar homes, but low-income residences…

The plan, now in its early stages, is for Lucas to transfer the property to the Marin Community Foundation, which will work with a nonprofit developer to build the housing, as it has with similar low-income projects throughout the area. (Peters prefers the term “workforce housing” given the stigma attached to its more common moniker. To illustrate the perception he is up against, one wealthy neighbor cried to the New York Times that Lucas was “inciting class warfare” by inviting poor people to move in.)…

Peters would like to put about 300 apartment units on the property, which would again take up only a small portion of the remaining 200 acres. Given all the protected space around Lucas’s properties here, it’s unlikely any of the neighbors would even be able to see such a development. Most of the Marin Community Foundation’s other housing projects have been developed along transit corridors. But because this location is more remote, Peters envisions that, at first, this site may be best suited for low-income elderly. Marin also has the highest proportion of aging residents of any county in California.

Peters is quick to add, too, that in Marin County a family of four earning nearly $90,000 a year is eligible for housing assistance (for further perspective on the local housing market: “I forget that you have to translate here that a million-dollar house is not a mansion, by a long shot. They’re very comfortable homes.”) And so the popular imagination – “you’re going to bring drug dealers” was another complaint in the Times – is at odds with the reality of what affordable housing really means in this economy, and who needs help obtaining it.

It’s a strange world where wealthy people can poke each other in the eye by threatening to build affordable housing. I guess we’ll have to wait and see how the neighbors respond but I wouldn’t be surprised if they fight this with the same vehemence they fought Lucas’ plans. Clearly, more affordable housing is needed here but wealthy residents fighting a NIMBY campaign can be quite powerful.

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