The Los Angeles Planning Commission on Thursday approved a $1.6-billion makeover of Universal Studios that supporters say will boost tourism, entertainment business and bring tens of thousands of jobs to the San Fernando Valley.
The commission voted unanimously to recommend the so-called Evolution plan despite the objection of Los Angeles River advocates who requested a riverfront bike path.
"This is a significant, important project," said commission President William Roschen, after a full day of deliberation at the Van Nuys Civic Center. "The vision of this plan is fantastic. This is an amazing opportunity for the city."
If approved by the City Council, the upgrade to the 100-year-old studios would greatly expand TV and movie production facilities, support and offices. It would also provide sweeping additions to the Universal Studios theme park and CityWalk.
It would also bring $100 million in local transportation fixes.
Six years in the making, the Evolution plan drew official and community support after NBCUniversal, which owns the studios, scrapped plans for a Red Line station office tower and 3,000 homes on its Universal City property.
Thursday's meeting opened to a standing-room crowd of hundreds of residents and union workers, many of whom defended the proposed development. The project will bring an estimated 35,000 new construction and production-related jobs.
"We believe Evolution is best for the city, best for the studios and best for workers," said union leader Robbie Hunter of the Los Angeles/Orange County Building Trades Council.
At the end of the day, eight commissioners voted unanimously to support a project that, before the houses were subtracted, had drawn fire for potential traffic and even threatening the historic studios.
The commission tabled approval of a new sign district until a review of how new movie and other signs might effect residents. The sign issue will be revisited Oct. 25.
"We are very pleased at the outcome of today," Corinne Verdery, NBCUniversal's chief real-estate development and planning officer, told the Daily News. "And we're grateful to all the community members who came out to participate.
"We're looking forward to the process of ultimately getting to build the project, and creating more than 30,000 new jobs."
Earlier, a broad coalition of environmental and planning groups asked the commission in a letter to deny the Evolution project unless it created a studio timeline to create a bike path between its movie sets and the Los Angeles River.
Proponents of the 1-mile bicycle and pedestrian path on a privately used county road through the studio backlot say it is required by a new state law as well as city and county river master plans.
Planning officials, however, said the service road used by the studios is owned by the Los Angeles County Flood Control District. About 70 percent of the studios lies within an unincorporated section of Los Angeles County.
NBCUniversal, which plans a small riverfront park on land it owns, intends to create a continuous bicycle and pedestrian path from Griffith Park to the 101 Freeway, officials said.
"NBCUniversal is committed to working with the city to establish a bike path from the Glendale Narrows through our property," George J. Mihlsten, an attorney representing the media giant, told the commission. "We are committed to making that happen.
The company announced Thursday it would contribute $3 million toward a county riverfront trail, $500,000 toward city bike lane improvements and $375,000 toward bike path planning.
Councilman Tom LaBonge also requested, and won, tens of thousand of dollars toward local neighborhood recreation, Campo de Cahuenga, the Los Angeles Zoo and Traveltown.
Though river advocates failed to stall the project to win their bike path, they were elated by the financial support.
"I'm excited NBC has stepped up to the plate with real money," said Eric Bruins, planning and policy director for the Los Angeles County Bike Coalition, which hopes to see river-bike connections from Canoga Park to the sea.
"There's a real effort by the commission to complete an entire plan for bicycles."