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Movie studio backers pitching hard for support

Email|Print|Single Page| Text size + By Christine Legere
Globe Correspondent / April 13, 2008

Backers of the $300 million Plymouth Rock Studios proposed for south Plymouth will shift into high gear this week in an attempt to win a May 10 nonbinding referendum on the development.

As the campaign gears up, residents can expect to see lawn signs and bumper stickers, and receive phone calls and postcards, all urging "Vote Yes for the Rock."

Public opinion on the studio appears split. While many officials and residents are enthusiastic about the jobs and tax benefits it would bring, others worry about uncontrolled spinoff residential and commercial growth in south Plymouth, along with major strains on the town's infrastructure. They say the town needs to move forward more cautiously.

Studio backers initiated the May 10 referendum in hopes that a yes vote will, in turn, pressure wary Town Meeting representatives to vote yes on the studio proposal when they convene June 9. It's up to the Town Meeting representatives to give selectmen the authority to sell or lease approximately 300 acres of town-owned property to Plymouth Rock Studios.

Plymouth Rock Studios would consist of a large complex of production facilities for family-fare television and film, along with a village center containing housing and stores. It would also include cultural and educational centers. The studio is envisioned as an anchor for the film industry on the East Coast.

A citizen committee called Vote Yes for the Rock will hold its first strategy meeting Tuesday in the Radisson Hotel.

Richard Silva, the chairman of the Vote Yes committee who is a lifelong Plymouth resident and a retired local assistant superintendent of schools, said he believes the film studio will be a major plus. "I'm solidly behind this," Silva said. "The tax base benefit and the jobs this will create are obvious."

To ease environmental concerns about the project, Town Meeting representatives will be asked to place a conservation restriction on the remaining 700 or so acres that the town owns in south Plymouth. That is seen as helping protect endangered and rare species believed to be in that area.

Also on the Town Meeting ballot will be a request for the town to pay for an appraisal of the development site, and for a lawyer to take part in negotiations with studio representatives. A needed zoning change may also be added, although it may wait until fall.

Studio supporter Loring Tripp said he believes the film proposal may have a rough go of it at the June 9 Town Meeting, because many of the precinct chairmen - who provide information to the 120 or so Town Meeting members - have spoken against the project.

"I thought this needed a vote by the entire public since this is an issue that will financially affect the whole town," said Tripp, who filed the citizen petition for the May 10 referendum.

Karen Buechs, also a project supporter, said townspeople will expect the Town Meeting members to honor the May 10 referendum vote, which she presumes will favor studio construction.

"There is no mistake. The people want this," Buechs said. "And the Town Meeting members are going to have to vote on this in front of the town."

William Abbott, chairman of the Committee of Precinct Chairmen, said he and other precinct chairmen aren't against the project just because they have expressed some concern.

"We don't need cheerleaders at this point. We need people digging to get some answers," Abbott said. "There's still a lot of information we need before a vote can take place. The idea Town Meeting is going to vote quickly on this is wrong. I think what Town Meeting members want to see here is the whole picture."

Abbott said precinct chairmen have given town officials and studio planners their list of concerns. "This is a collaborative process and I know they're working hard on it," Abbott said. "I think a studio would be a wonderful use of the land. I just want to be sure the impacts are known. "

Janet Young, a precinct chairwoman, agrees with Abbott. At this point, she said, she would not vote for the project. But Young expressed confidence that Plymouth Rock Studios and town officials will provide what is needed.

"No one wants this project to fail," Young said. "But right now, all we have is a draft article about conveying the land, with no mention on how it will be conveyed or if there is any compensation for the town. And while the state has guaranteed us the interchange off the highway, we'll still have an old road leading into the site from the other side. Who's going to pay for the road improvements?"

"If this lands in Plymouth, we have to make sure it doesn't land on the backs of the citizens," Young said.

Plymouth Rock Studios officials have set up a workshop with the Committee of Precinct Chairmen on April 24. The chairmen expect to have their list of concerns addressed that evening, Young said.

Christine Legere can be reached at christinelegere@yahoo.com.

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