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By The Capistrano Dispatch

The 13-foot-tall, 36-foot-long apatosaurus replica at Zoomars Petting Zoo has earned the nickname “Juan.” Photo by Brian Park

In the second installment of our question-and-answer series with San Jan Capistrano’s City Council candidates, we asked the candidates:

Preservation and change always seem to be at an impasse in a city like San Juan Capistrano, whose most marketable feature is its history. The Planning Commission voted down an appeal to keep the dinosaur replica at Zoomars Petting Zoo because it hadn’t received prior approval, but the original complaint stemmed from its controversial situation within the Los Rios Historic District. Do you think Zoomars should be able to keep the dinosaur? How do you balance the city’s historical value against change, if such innovation can improve local business?

Here are the candidates’ responses in the order in which their names will appear on the November ballot:

Sam Allevato
Councilmember/Retired Policeman

Because I am a sitting Councilman and this issue may come before the City Council in our quasi-judicial role, I am precluded from stating a public opinion on this item before I am presented the entire case. However, I know that there are good, honest people on both sides of this issue that care very much about San Juan. Many have roots that go back to the Juaneño tribe and early European settlers. What makes us special is our commitment to preserving our history and our heritage.

This project was sent back to start at the beginning and must now go through the entire process. It will be studied by our various commissions, which are comprised of intelligent, considerate citizens that also want the best for San Juan Capistrano, while honoring our history and our own codes and laws. That is the framework by which this issue will be considered by these commissions. They will make a recommendation to the City Council and I will be judging this issue on aspects of property rights, historical preservation, the Los Rios Specific Plan and other related codes and ordinances. This is where balance and good judgment come into play.

Ginny Kerr
Planning Commissioner

I am not able to comment on the first part of the question related to the dinosaur replica at Zoomars at this time. As you may be aware, Zoomars has submitted updated plans which will be subject to the city’s review and approval process including a new review by the Planning Commission. I will form my opinion and make my recommendation only after careful review of the new plans presented by the applicant and staff, listening to public comment and participating in a discussion with my fellow commissioners when this item appears on the Planning Commission agenda.

The review and approval process is in place to balance the city’s historical value against change by evaluating projects using city design guidelines and zoning regulations to make certain that new projects protect the unique character of our city. This process allows various commissions and the Design Review Committee as well as the public to provide comments related to architectural design and suitability of the business location for the proposed use. Based upon this input, changes are frequently made to improve a project before it comes before the Planning Commission for a recommendation of approval to be forwarded to the City Council.

Kim McCarthy
Newsletter Editor

I believe that all businesses should follow city ordinances and procedures. But certain rules seem to apply to some and not others.

For instance, during a mid-July Planning Commission Meeting, I reported two unpermitted structures built on open space at The Oaks. One was 30-plus horse stalls with footings, electrical and running water—built without permits of any kind. City employees subsequently visited The Oaks and reported “no improprieties.” When I came up with proof of the illegal structures, the city employees said, “oh, woops.” Buildings still stand, the city claims notices will go out for a Planning Commission hearing to determine whether they can remain intact. Zoomars on the other hand, was denied a permit because they constructed the dinosaur without a permit.

What am I missing here? Why is The Oaks allowed a “hearing” rather than having to appeal a denial by the Planning Commission as Zoomars had to do? Zoomars was denied the permit because, like The Oaks, they allegedly constructed something without obtaining the proper permits first.

This favoritism needs to stop in my opinion. If elected, I will make sure that the same rules apply to everyone.

Tom Marantz
Technology Administrator

Maintaining the historical perspective in our town is vital. I fully support the provisions in the Los Rios Specific Plan that seek to preserve this area’s over-200-year history. The Zoomars area is zoned as “historic commercial.” The dinosaur was installed without permitting or inspection, and I would have made safety a superseding issue in this situation. Proper procedures should have been followed. There is a permit process in place for these situations in which all these issues can be vetted and the public has input.

Every local business should have to follow their local zoning requirements, and working within those requirements, any business should be able to erect a statue or any other structure as approved and inspected.

Our city has a rare competitive advantage with our open spaces and history. These are vanishing resources that you cannot get back once they are gone. We need to be thoughtful and respectful of this responsibility. I strongly believe in San Juan Capistrano’s motto, “Preserving the Past to Enhance the Future.” We can effectively create an innovative environment for businesses to succeed while preserving our history.

Roy L. Byrnes
Retired Physician/Surgeon

A “historic zone” and an “amusement park” are entirely different designations that are poles apart. The original attempt by the owner of Zoomars to classify the dinosaur replica as “historic” fails in the face of facts and simple logic. However, Zoomars has another option open which they have not yet explored. That option could be to approach the city with a request to re-characterize their property from “historic” to “public amusement park.” Such a request would call forth technical questions requiring study by the Director of Planning and the Planning Commission. Nevertheless this would have been a more straight-forward approach rather than a “midnight rezone.”

Addressing the question of balancing historic uses within the city, I believe that historic preservation and economic benefits are not incompatible. There are many historic projects in Southern California that have accrued substantial economic benefits.

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