The San Juan Capistrano City Council has signed off on commissioning a study examining a potential project that would bring about a new performing arts center at the eastern part of Historic Town Center Park.
The approval was unanimously given on Tuesday, June 6, and recommended by city staff.
The proposed center would be 49,000 square feet, Development Services Director Joel Rojas said.
Going ahead with the study is not an overall approval of the project itself, which will come before the Planning Commission and City Council later with more details for review. The study will merely examine the potential for future code amendments and is the initial step for required rezoning measures.
The new performing arts center has long been promised by local developer Dan Almquist, who recently purchased the Camino Real Playhouse property and plans to turn that into a parking structure.
The Playhouse is required to eventually vacate the premises. Playhouse administrators are currently searching for another venue in San Juan and funding for a relocation.
Almquist’s project would also bring about a 95-unit apartment complex at the former Kimpton Hotel site on El Camino Real. The complex would be 110,224 square feet and have three- and four-story buildings, a resort-style pool, and clubhouse building.
A commercial component would also include a single-story, 4,294-square-foot restaurant adjacent to Camino Capistrano and a 3,000-square-foot fitness center.
“It’s in the central part of our downtown,” Rojas said.
In a letter to city staff, Project Manager Brent Little said Almquist’s company is “excited to make this request and believes the project will provide the community with important housing to meet regional needs and recreational facilities to provide entertainment to the community.”
Mayor Howard Hart said traffic impacts by the project are likely on everyone’s minds.
“There is going to be a traffic impact analysis prepared that will look at all the impacts—not just the residential component, but the entirety of the specific plan,” Rojas said.
Councilmember Troy Bourne said initiating the study is important, because the performing arts center and apartment complex have been discussed “for a long time in the city,” and he wants to understand how a residential downtown area would look.
“At some point in the future when we have the data in front of us, then we can make an informed decision on whether or not we want to move forward with the projects,” Bourne said.
Councilmember John Campbell said there are lots of questions to be answered regarding the configuration of the buildings.
“I don’t think that’s an appropriate conversation at this point, so I’d also be in favor of the study,” Campbell said.
Hart said his vote to initiate the study should not be implied to be full “support for this project as I see it.”
“I want to learn more about the implications,” Hart said. “I believe it deserves a study at this point, from my perspective. I prefer to make my decisions based on data, rather than first impressions.”
The next steps will involve processing the entitlement applications for the project and working to amend the specific land-use regulations for the sites, Rojas said.
“The study will also include the preparation of an environmental impact report, pursuant to the California Environmental Quality Act,” Rojas said. “Once the environmental impact report has been completed, the project will be reviewed by the city’s Cultural Heritage Commission, Design Review Committee, and Planning Commission.”
“Eventually, the applications and general plan amendment, code amendment, and all the land-use changes are going to be back to the City Council for the final decision on the application packet,” Rojas continued. “We estimate the public hearings will occur sometime in late 2024.”