George Lucas Proposes Affordable Housing Plan

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George Lucas
By Les Christie


The film emperor may be striking back. For 25 years, filmmaker George Lucas tried to persuade his Marin County, Calif., neighbors to let him build a digital production studio on his ranch there, but the area's residents thwarted the plan.

So Lucas has come up with an alternative for his Grady Ranch property: To build low-income housing on it.

In a letter posted online, Lucasfilm wrote, "It is with great sadness that Skywalker Properties has decided to pull its application to build a studio facility.

Instead, the maker of some of the biggest box office successes of all time, including the "Star Wars" and "Indiana Jones" franchises, intends to sell the property to the Marin Community Foundation (MCF), a nonprofit that has already funded more than 2,500 units of affordable housing and will explore options for developing Grady Ranch.

Lucas had applied to the county planning commission for permits to build a 260,000 square-foot compound that would be used as a digital media production studio. The company claimed that the facilities would create about 600 high-paying jobs.

"The level of bitterness and anger expressed by the homeowners in Lucas Valley has convinced us that, even if we were to spend more time and acquire the necessary approvals, we would not be able to maintain a constructive relationship with our neighbors," Lucasfilm said in its statement.

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Opposition to the plan has come mainly from residents of nearby homes represented by the Lucas Valley Estates Homeowners Association, and from real estate developer Thomas Monahan, who owns a big property next to the Grady Ranch. The association did not respond to a request for comment and Monahan declined to comment.

The homeowners objected to several aspects of the project, according to Mary Feller, a member of a nearby homeowners association who attended many of the planning commission meetings. Among the concerns were traffic, noise and an outdoor stage that would be lit until 11:00 p.m.

Feller said that the Marin Conservation League also raised environmental objections, particularly when it came to plans for the disposal of dirt and rocks that would be excavated for the project. The conservation league did not respond to a request for comment.

Not all of Lucas Valley's residents were voting against the filmmaker, however. "The loss of that project is a major blow to the community," said Dale Miller, an area resident. "It would have provided a lot of jobs."

Land to build on in the Lucas Valley area -- which was named after a 19th century rancher, not the 20th century filmmaker -- is rare thanks to strict "smart growth" policies that limits the building of new homes. These policies encourage building in higher density areas while keeping undeveloped land open. As a result, much of Marin has been set aside for parks and recreational areas.

With the housing supply artificially compressed, home prices are high there. The median home price has hovered around $700,000 lately, according to Fred Silverman, a spokesman for the MCF.

"Affordability is so bad that many people, even with moderate income, can't afford to live here," he said.

It may seem as if the affordable housing project is a way for Lucas to stick it to his opposition, but Tom Peters, the CEO of the Marin County Foundation disagrees. "I know Lucas and checked with him on that point personally and directly. It was essential that I was convinced that it was not done out of spite. I would not have accepted the project if I thought it was," he said.

Back in the late 1970s, when Lucas was planning Skywalker Ranch, a studio about 10 miles west of Grady Ranch, he ran into similar opposition from homeowners. Local residents "feared helicopters landing with celebrities and tour buses coming down Lucas Valley Road," said Lucasfilm in its letter. "None of their fears materialized."

The company insists that Skywalker has been an exemplary neighbor and asset to the community, preserving 5,000 acres of woods and fields, establishing an 11-mile hiking trail, restoring a pond, helping wildlife to thrive, and providing aid to the local fire and rescue squads, not to mention creating hundreds of jobs.

It's still unclear how the community will react to the housing plan for Grady Ranch. Mary Feller said she believes the community will have no objection. Peters, on the other hand, expects a fight.

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George Lucas Proposes Affordable Housing Plan

The jury is in: Our beleaguered housing market has finally turned the corner, many experts say.

Not only are home prices beginning to edge up for the first time in months, but other indicators, like home construction and sales, are stronger than they've been in years. Still, with tight lending conditions and shaky employment, the progress is slow in most communities. 

But not in these places. 

There are actually markets that are steaming at full speed toward recovery. But with home prices still severely depressed, compared to 2006 levels, many properties remain ripe for the taking. 

Keep clicking to see some of the best homes (as determined by Realtor.com) for sale in some of the hottest markets.

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Year-Over-Year Inventory Change: -47.36 percent

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Price: $11.3 million
Beds/Baths: 7/12
Sq. Ft.: 13,282

The quintessential enormous Florida mega-mansion, this home boasts 145 feet of canal waterfront, with quick access to the ocean. Its backyard has a pool and hot tub, a full service concrete dock, and an outdoor dining area with a summer kitchen.

See the listing for more details, or see more homes for sale in Fort Lauderdale, Fla.

Built in 2009, the home features all state-of-the art appliances. The kitchen has an oversize  center island, a walk-in pantry and a separate butler’s pantry. The master suite features a sitting area, two walk-in closets and two master bathrooms.

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Some other noteworthy features: an elevator, wine room, library, and a club room with a wetbar adjacent to the home theater.

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Year-Over-Year Median List Price Appreciation: 6.38 percent
Year-Over-Year Inventory Change: -32.40 percent

Home Location: Jacksonville, Fla.
Price: $5.9 million
Beds/Baths: 4/7
Sq. Ft.: 10,000

It’s not a true Florida mansion if it doesn’t have private waterfront access. This property sits on the St. Johns River, and has boat access to the ocean.

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The gated estate includes a large front courtyard and enormous backyard with a pool and gazebo. There’s also exclusive river access via a private pier, complete with boathouse and boatlift.

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The four-bedroom house comes complete with an atrium, a workshop, vaulted ceilings, and was extensively renovated in 1990 and updated in 2008.

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Year-Over-Year Median List Price Appreciation: 13.18 percent
Year-Over-Year Inventory Change: -27.31 percent

Home Location: Washington, D.C.
Price: $2,895,000
Beds/Baths: 6/7
Sq. Ft.: 7,697

This newly built, never-before-occupied home is located in the highly sought after Phillips Park community in Washington, D.C. It was built with energy-saving in mind, with Energy Star appliances, high-performance windows, insulated doors, energy efficient heating and cooling systems, and water-saving plumbing.

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This top-of-the-line house has four finished levels, with a wraparound porch providing dramatic views.

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Year-Over-Year Inventory Change: -29.15 percent

Home Location: University Park, Texas
Price: $2,995,000
Beds/Baths: 5/7
Sq. Ft.: 6,561

This classic five-bedroom home with a stone exterior has some interesting and unique features. It has a two-story library, an Old World pizza oven, a wine vault, and an outdoor loggia with built-in grill.

See the listing for more details, or see more homes for sale in University Park, Texas.

It’s ideal for a growing family, being just walking distance to the local elementary school.

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Year-Over-Year Median List Price Appreciation: 13.34 percent
Year-Over-Year Inventory Change: -26.30 percent

Home Location: Punta Gorda, Fla.
Price: $2,999,000
Beds/Baths: 4/5
Sq. Ft.: 5,123

Another waterfront stunner with access to Charlotte Harbor and the Gulf of Mexico. Its double lot has over 250 feet of waterfront, a 14,000-pound boatlift, and is equipped for endless entertainment.

See the listing for more details, or see more homes for sale in Punta Gorda, Fla.

There is a tiki bar with summer kitchen; a pool with a large, beautiful waterfall and a spa; two wrap-around decks (one on each floor); and the second floor deck has its own hot tub. There’s also a sound system wired throughout the house and lanai, which is also wired for a TV.

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Inside, you’ll find four bedrooms, five bathrooms, and a gourmet eat-in kitchen with wood cabinets, granite countertops, and a breakfast bar. Its upstairs loft has a wet bar and a pool table.

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Year-Over-Year Median List Price Appreciation: 11.92 percent
Year-Over-Year Inventory Change: -39.79 percent

Home Location: Tampa, Fla.
Price: $2,995,000
Beds/Baths: 6/6
Sq. Ft.: 5,520

This waterfront view home has a two-story grand foyer, which features a distinctive staircase with limestone balustrades.

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Its banquet-size dining room is perfect for entertaining, and its extreme kitchen is a chef’s dream. It features a Sub-Zero refrigerator, a Sub-Zero two-drawer freezer, large double oven, two dishwashers, ice maker, level-5 granite counters, a chef’s special area for preparing meals, and a walk-in appliance closet. And all with spectacular water views.

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The master suite has French doors leading to a private terrace with exquisite views of Old Tampa Bay. The backyard has a two-tiered pool and spa, and also features a dock.

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This top-of-the-line house has four finished levels, with a wraparound porch providing dramatic views.

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Its large kitchen offers plenty of granite counter surfaces, and state-of-the-art appliances. Enjoy views of the bay from the breakfast nook or the formal dining room.

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, or see more homes for sale in Sarasota, Fla.

With 14-foot ceilings, this house offers a wide-open feel, ideal for sunny Florida weather. Its backyard is perfect for lounging and enjoying a relaxing dip in the pool.

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Home Location: Lakeland, Fla.
Price: $1.6 million
Beds/Baths: 4/6
Sq. Ft.: 5,552

A brick driveway ushers visitors into 5,552 square feet of interior space, shielded behind a grand stone-and-stucco exterior on this 0.71-acre property.  

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In the home's foyer, stone columns reach to soaring ceilings. The ceilings rise even higher in its family room, which has a granite fireplace and remote-controlled blinds. The home's pool area has a swim-up wet bar and includes 1,300 square feet of imported stone. 

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The interior features coffered and vaulted ceilings, custom wainscotting and travertine floors. 

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Year-Over-Year Median List Price Appreciation: 18.27
Year-Over-Year Inventory Change: -27.61

Home Location: Fort Myers, Fla.
Price: $2.495 million
Beds/Baths: 5/7
Sq. Ft.: 5,027

Decked out in the finest finishes, this home offers stunning water views and superior craftsmanship. 

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The home's waterfront is visible through a frame of arched, leaded windows. There are two master suits in the residence, both of which boast their own private lanais.

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Facing the water's edge, the rear of the home features a courtyard and veranda outfitted with a summer kitchen and fireplace.

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Year-Over-Year Inventory Change: -48.35 percent

Home Location: Oakland, Calif.
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Sq. Ft.: 3,717

Oakland's price appreciation over the last year has been relatively modest compared to some of our other picks. But the market's rapidly clearing inventory identifies the area as a promising investment opportunity. From its hillside perch in Oakland, this Tuscan-style stunner presides over San Francisco Bay. The interior features custom finishes, Venetian plaster, pecan hardwood floors and vaulted ceilings. 

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The home's open-floor plan encompasses a gourmet kitchen with marble countertops, ample cabinetry and top-of-the-line appliances. 

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And its covered veranda offers panoramas of San Francisco Bay. 

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Year-Over-Year Inventory Change: -34.16 percent

Home Location: Naples, Fla. 
Price: $2.997 million
Beds/Baths: 4/7
Sq. Ft.: 5,076

This palm tree-lined home nestles into a .60-acre lot blanketed with lush landscaping. Despite rising listing prices in the area, this home just got a price cut, with its ask now just under $3 million.

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The home boasts a cavernous great room that stares out at the nearby lake through floor-to-ceiling windows with massive draperies.

See the listing for more details, or see other homes for sale in Naples, Fla.

Behind the house is a lagoon-like pool surrounded by a brick patio and manicured trees and plants. 

See the listing for more details, or see other homes for sale in Naples, Fla.

Year-Over-Year Median List Price Appreciation: 17.53 percent
Year-Over-Year Inventory Change: -36.87 percent

Home Location: Boise, Idaho
Price: $2.325 million
Beds/Baths: 4/5
Sq. Ft.: 6,258

Boise's certainly a bright spot on today's sometimes-gloomy housing horizon, and if you dip into its sizzling market, you can bet on bagging a lot more space than you would in many coastal cities. That's the case with this Spanish-style, stucco beauty, which, beyond its 5.85-acre plot and 6,258-square-foot interior, offers elaborate finishes and decor. 

See the listing for more details, or see other homes for sale in Boise, Idaho

Encased by a stuccoed, Old World exterior, the interior offers a wide array of amenities, including a ladder-equipped library that smacks of erudition. 

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And here's a taste of the home's byzantine finishes: An elaborate mural that appears to portray some divine scene adorns the walls of the home's living room. 

See the listing for more details, or see other homes for sale in Boise, Idaho

Year-Over-Year Median List Price Appreciation: 11.54 percent
Year-Over-Year Inventory Change: -41.58 percent

Home Location: Orlando, Fla.
Price: $3 million
Beds/Baths: 5/7
Sq. Ft.: 6,999

Orlando clocks in at a third on our list of the hottest markets out there. In the fast-recovering city sits this beautifully manicured property. The stone-built home is just over 10 years old and commands 1.27 acres of verdant landscape. 

See the listing for more details, or see other homes for sale in Orlando, Fla. 

The home's open-floor plan sprawls nearly 7,000 square feet, and features airy spaces like this pool table-equipped living area. 

See the listing for more details, or see other homes for sale in Orlando, Fla. 

Amenities await wherever you go on this luxury property. Pictured here is a wine bar complemented by one of the home's pool tables. Outside there's a pool, boat ramp, slip and dock. Community amenities include a fishing pier, fitness center, golf course, playground and tennis courts. 

See the listing for more details, or see other homes for sale in Orlando, Fla. 

Year-Over-Year Median List Price Appreciation: 24.32 percent
Year-Over-Year Inventory Change: -48.03 percent

Home Location: Miami Beach, Fla. 
Price: $3 million
Beds/Baths: 2/2
Sq. Ft.: 1,332

While foreclosure-saturated Florida has been walloped by the housing crash, the Miami-area market still costs a pretty penny per square foot. And considering that the market is really starting to heat up, local turf is not about to get any less expensive. If you're in a position to pony up $3 million, you can bag this swanky apartment

See the listing for more details, or see other homes for sale in the Miami area

The home features an expansive balcony with outdoor kitchen that overlooks the complex's resort-size pool.

See the listing for more details, or see other homes for sale in the Miami area

Year-Over-Year Median List Price Appreciation: 26.94 percent
Year-Over-Year Inventory Change: -48.04 percent

Home Location: Phoenix
Price: $5.995 million
Beds/Baths: 6/8
Sq. Ft.: 11,039

This French chateau rose shortly after the onset of the housing meltdown, and almost undoubtedly has seen its value tumble over the last few years in Phoenix's hard-hit real estate market. 

But days ahead might be brighter for this 11,039-square-foot behemoth. Phoenix, like some of the other hardest-hit markets, is mounting a furious comeback. Realtor.com says prices have shot up nearly 27 percent in the last year. 

See the listing for more details, or see other homes for sale in Phoenix.

The home's interior features coffered ceilings, dark wood flooring, custom millwork and a gourmet kitchen with zinc and granite countertops. 

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The home's rear has a covered patio with fireplace that looks out on the property's expansive pool. Some of the home's notable amenities: a recording studio, spa, four-car garage, wine room, theater, guesthouse and giant master suite. 

See the listing for more details, or see other homes for sale in Phoenix.

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