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By Collin Breaux | @collin_breaux

The top three applicants seeking approval for extended uses of the Northwest Open Space in San Juan Capistrano will present their plans to the City Council during a meeting on Tuesday, May 17, giving the public an opportunity to learn about the proposals.

Capistrano Vineyards, C&C Development, and Frontier Real Estate Investments are the three applicants under consideration for potential use of the Northwest Open Space, which is mostly undeveloped land owned by the city on Camino Capistrano before the Laguna Niguel city limit. The city is looking for an outside group to create some new uses for the area and attract more visitors. Any use would have to fit in with the land’s rustic atmosphere.

The council is not scheduled to vote on selecting an applicant at Tuesday’s meeting. A specific selection on an applicant will likely occur at a future council meeting.

The three applicants detailed aspects of their plans in a meeting agenda report.

Included in Capistrano Vineyard’s proposal is a plan to restore the Swanner House, a historic venue at the Northwest Open Space, and operate a “full-service” equestrian facility with 149 stables and horse rentals, as well as community gardens open for the public and recreational amenities including horseshoes and badminton.

Representative partners and operators for Capistrano Vineyards include local builder and business owner Jim Adam and Robert Quest, owner of several local restaurants—including Sundried Tomato American Bistro & Catering Company and Bueno Bueno Mexican Kitchen.

“Capistrano Vineyards differentiates itself from the other proposals by maximizing passive and useable open space, while making it not only useable, but attractive and inviting for all to enjoy,” Capistrano Vineyards said in a proposal summary.

“Our team is excited for the opportunity to provide a space for the community that will bring people of all backgrounds to come together through various creative uses for personal enjoyment, local businesses, and private events that will serve as a place to gather and create lasting memories,” the vineyards added.

The proposal from C&C Development—which is also building The Groves, an affordable housing complex for senior citizens across the street from JSerra Catholic High School—is only eyeing the Swanner House.

“We plan to use the Swanner House and surrounding grounds in the Northwest Open Space for a destination event venue to serve the residents of San Juan Capistrano and surrounding communities,” C&C Development said in its plan summary. “We will undertake improvements to the venue addressing deferred maintenance at the Swanner House, creating a new modern rustic events barn and enhancing the landscaping and hardscaping.”

C&C Development would invest $3.5 to $4 million for various improvements, including a patio and event lawn adjacent to the barn; a garden featuring seasonal fruits and vegetables in raised planter beds that will be framed by citrus trees; and a direction connection point to the Putuidem Cultural Village along the property’s southern boundary that will be flanked by native Californian landscaping.

C&C Development is also willing to be integrated with another bidder.

The partners with Frontier’s proposal are Frontier headman Dan Almquist, Trevor’s at the Tracks owner Trevor Baird, and local equestrian Kathy Holman.

Frontier’s proposed uses are to revamp the Swanner House and surrounding spaces into a core hospitality area; create a “functioning” farm that would provide produce for the hospitality area and downtown restaurants; and establishing a “full-service” equestrian facility “designed to hold equestrian events, including rodeos, barrel racing, roping, and sorting—complete with spectator seating.”

“Upon entering into a lease, the partnership will look to make immediate improvements to the historic Swanner House and the surrounding event grounds,” Frontier Real Estate Investments said in its summary.

“This includes but is not limited to enhanced landscape improvements, including the replanting of the existing orchard, the addition of a formal events lawn, and cosmetic repairs and enhancements to the Swanner House,” Frontier continued. “Concurrent with the Swanner House improvements, the partnership will also look to make improvements to the existing dog park to enhance the overall visitor experience.”

Alqmuist is a well-known local developer in town and is also behind other projects, including the upcoming River Street Marketplace retail and community space by the Los Rios Historic District and new office and retail space at the Camino Real Playhouse property.

The three applicants were selected from an initial pool of seven proposals, including plans for a wave pool as proposed by Pacifico Development. The top three applicants have also presented their plans during the weekly Coffee Chat discussions at Hennessey’s Tavern on Camino Capistrano.

The council meeting will be held at City Hall, 32400 Paseo Adelanto, and is scheduled to begin the open session at 5 p.m. The meeting will also be live-streamed online through the city website at sanjuancapistrano.org.

Collin Breaux

Collin Breaux covers San Juan Capistrano and other South Orange County news as the City Editor for The Capistrano Dispatch. Before moving to California, he covered Hurricane Michael, politics and education in Panama City, Florida. He can be reached by email at cbreaux@picketfencemedia.com.

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