Universal/23 inches/LK1st/mark2nd

By SHELLY GARCIA

Staff Reporter

Universal Studios Inc. was thrown yet another curve last week when L.A. County planning officials voted to limit excessively loud film production on the studio lot.

The decision, unprecedented in the entertainment industry, is the latest setback for Universal, which already has agreed to slash the size of its $1 billion expansion project by 44 percent in response to residents' concerns about additional noise and traffic.

Universal officials expressed disappointment at the vote, but said that it is too early to tell what effect it may have on expansion plans.

"The mix of businesses here on this property is unique and vital to our business planning," said Helen McCann, vice president for Universal's master plan. "We don't want to move forward with any one business at the expense of the other, and that's part of the difficult decision-making process we have in front of us."

On Oct. 7, the L.A. County Planning Commission voted to limit production involving loud noises such as explosions and other pyrotechnics between the hours of midnight (1 a.m. daylight savings time) and 5 a.m. The recommendation must be approved by at least four other county panels before it would take effect.

"We will at every step of the process be evaluating whether this still makes good business sense," McCann said.

Universal is seeking to add 3.2 million square feet to its development, with about half of the amount devoted to recreational uses and the remainder devoted to office and studio additions. That's down considerably from the company's earlier plans, which Universal scaled back after encountering stiff opposition from neighborhood groups and local officials.

The company, for example, scrapped plans to open a second theme park and cut by 63 percent initial plans to construct hotels on the site.

Universal officials say they've already given up all the square footage they can and need the current space in order to meet the demands of a fickle marketplace.

"We're going to do everything possible to make this work for the community, but it also has to work for us," McCann said.

With 5.4 million visitors last year, Universal Studios Hollywood ran a distant second among Southern California theme parks to Disneyland, which attracted 14.3 million visitors, according to International Theme Park Services Inc., a Cincinnati-based consulting firm.

If it is to compete, Universal needs space to develop a broader array of attractions, said Dennis Speigel, Theme Park's president. "This is an extremely competitive market. Expansion is a necessity," he said.

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