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By Collin Breaux | Twitter: @collin_breaux

The Camino Real Playhouse site along El Camino Real could be razed to make way for new commercial real estate at the property, with hopes for a new performing arts center to be built on a 3.15-acre site at 31878 Camino Capistrano.

The potential new venue is part of a proposed development discussed at a San Juan Capistrano City Council meeting on Tuesday, Jan. 19. Councilmembers approved initiating a study on the development, which plans to include a fitness center, restaurant, clubhouse, and 181 parking stalls. The study initiation is not an automatic approval of the project, but rather allows city staff to begin a review process. The development plans will subsequently go before the city’s planning commission, which will then make a recommendation of action to the council, which has final approval. The process is expected to take 12 to 18 months, according to a city staff report.

The property is near Historic Town Center Park and Forster Street. Camino Capistrano OZ is the company developing the project and is requesting to create a specific zoning plan for the site to facilitate the development, thus requiring a general plan amendment study by the city.

“Although we are in the preliminary stages of planning, careful thought has been given to building design, surrounding uses, and community needs,” Brent Little, Project Manager for Camino Capistrano OZ, said in a letter included in the staff report. “We look forward to receiving comments and refining our project to best serve the community.”

The mixed-use project also calls for residential use—specifically, 95 apartments. The fitness center would be connected to the apartment building. The performing arts center would be on the eastern portion of Historic Town Center Park, which the city owns. Access and parking for the performing arts center would be integrated into the project, according to the staff report.

“Importantly, any potential lease or sale of city-owned parkland for use as a performing arts center would require future city council approval,” the report said.

Councilmember Howard Hart said he does not embrace vacant lots as open space when looking at the current downtown area, since they can attract homeless people.

“Quite honestly, I get the sense that whatever is built in that vacant lot is going to have opposition,” Hart said of concerns about the project. “While I appreciate constructive criticism, ultimately something is going to be built there.”

Councilmember Troy Bourne said inevitably the site will be described as an apartment building, and there are elements of it that incorporate amenities that residents have been asking for, such as a sit-down restaurant. Bourne further said there will be traffic coming out of the site and that the project isn’t perfect, but he doesn’t want it to be considered based on a “zero-based traffic study, as if the alternative to building this project is a meadow.”

“Do I think (the plan) is worth studying? Oh, yeah,” Bourne said. “I think there’s a lot to like about this, and hopefully we can keep the best parts, and improve some of the parts we’re not as big a fan of.”

The possible razing of Camino Real Playhouse is part of a separate development project proposed by Frontier Real Estate Investments for city-owned property at the southeast corner of Ortega Highway and El Camino Real, where the Playhouse is located. That project is currently under review by city staff. The proposed new performing arts center would effectively replace the Playhouse.

Camino Real Playhouse could be razed and be replaced by a new performing arts center, in a separate location. Photo: Collin Breaux

Local developer Dan Almquist and Playhouse staff have previously mentioned their collaborative efforts to secure a performing arts center for the area while retaining Playhouse staff in the process.

In other meeting news, the council decided to eliminate the banner street program for nonprofits—which allows nonprofits to publicize community events on a banner that hangs above the Del Obispo Street and Camino Capistrano intersection—starting in January 2022.

Bourne brought forth the decision due to concerns about how the banner announcements look, in comparison to recent renovations to the nearby downtown area. All current announcement reservations will still be honored, and the city will still continue to use the banner street program for city announcements. No new reservations will be accepted.

The council voted, 3-1, in favor of the decision. Mayor John Taylor and Councilmembers Sergio Farias and Bourne voted yes, while Councilmember Howard Hart voted no. Mayor Pro Tem Derek Reeve was not at Tuesday’s meeting.

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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