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Pinewood Studios auditions for 289-acre rezoning tonight

A plan to rezone 289 acres in rural central Fayette County to make way for a multi-million dollar movie studio complex will be up for a vote before the Fayette County Commission tonight (March 28).

The project is expected to bring roughly 2,000 jobs to the county once it gets up to full steam and upwards of 150 in the first phase alone.

The site is located directly across Sandy Creek Road from Rivers Elementary School, which may in the future become an annex of the Savannah College of Art and Design to teach the art of television and film production.

The planning commission and county zoning staff are recommending approval of the request, which would change the zoning from agriculture-reserve and R-70 residential to GB, the county’s brand-new General Business zoning classification.

Pinewood Studios, headquartered in London, England, wants to make Fayette County its home base of operations in the United States. The specific location is at the intersection of Sandy Creek Road and Veterans Parkway. Veterans Parkway is also known as the “West Fayetteville Bypass.”

Local officials have been working on the plans, dubbed “Project Stargate,” for over a year. If the rezoning is approved by the commission, Pinewood plans to begin construction next month at an estimated cost of $23 million.

Although it is apparently not necessary for the first phase, the developer has informed the county that a heliport may be needed for the site in the future. That solitary fact gives a glimpse into the size, scope and importance of the project.

The developer is proposing a 100-foot screening area along Sandy Creek Road and Veterans Parkway to buffer the development from adjacent lots. In that area, the developer is proposing a 10-foot wide multi-use path for public use, although there are no other paths currently in the area for the site to connect to.

The first phase will disturb only 71 acres for construction of five soundstages in four buildings with attached production office space and two workshop buildings, leaving the remaining 217 acres undeveloped. The site includes about 78 acres of wetlands as well.

County staff is also recommending additional landscaping along a 30-foot wide area along the eastern side of the power line easement from Sandy Creek Road. The floodplain of Sandy Creek provides separation from properties to the south, according to county planning staff.

According to a Pinewood official, the studio will be operating mostly between 7 a.m. and 7 p.m. although there will be occasional night shoots. There are 381 parking spaces planned for the first phase of the project.

County officials have noted that the film industry will hire from a wide range of occupations including tradesmen, technicians, professionals and executives.

County planning staff have also lauded Pinewood for proposing architectural codes and regulations for the development which will “achieve a unique look and character for the buildings and site.”

Two local architecture firms were engaged to design the project: Historical Concepts and Foley Design Architects.

The largest buildings will reach a height of 65 feet, which will require an amendment of the GB zoning restrictions, and the county may also need to amend its sign ordinance to handle the proposed signage for the site.

As for traffic, Pinewood officials do not anticipate any unnecessary congestion along either Sandy Creek Road or Veterans Parkway.

Developers are hoping to secure an annexation into the city of Fayetteville so the site can be linked to the city’s sewer system, but there is a contingency plan in case that does not occur.

Pinewood plans to work with local schools, colleges and universities to help students pursuing careers in film, TV and other creative industries, according to a pitch letter from the company.

In addition to shooting on the soundstages, Pinewood will offer back lots and facilities for pre-production and post-production. Pinewood has a reputation for setting up a one-stop shop for producers looking to shoot TV and movie productions.

Pinewood, however, does not finance productions. Rather, it leases space to interested companies instead.

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