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U tour treats officials to glimpse of future

City and county officials boarded trams and toured the Universal lot Tuesday to get a first-hand view of the sites proposed for the studio’s ambitious expansion plans over the next 25 years.

Members of the county regional planning commission and officials from the city planning department watched intently as Universal officials acted as tour guides through its 415-acre property, where it is planning to create a new destination resort, add a family entertainment venue and increase the amount of studio office and soundstage space.

The tour was just one in a series of public meetings over the studio’s plans, which must be approved by the city and the county. As it went on, some marveled at the lot, especially in a visit to a soundstage where New England sets were being prepared for DreamWorks’ new movie “Amistad,” to be directed by Steven Spielberg. Supporters have seen the expansion project as a boon to the region’s economy and a natural extension of the studio’s existing use of the property.

Groups of sometimes vocal opponents of the project also were on board the trams, often asking U officials about the size and scale of new buildings.

One of the major concerns that nearby residents have raised has been the studio’s plans to add as many as six hotels on the east end of its property — a portion of the project they have said is akin to building a new Disneyland in the area. The hotels would be built on graded hillside and on part of its existing backlot.

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