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By Collin Breaux | Twitter: @collin_breaux

In order to facilitate plans by local developer Dan Almquist to build retail and office building spaces—in addition to other uses—at the current Camino Real Playhouse site, the San Juan Capistrano City Council approved initial rezoning steps as proposed by city staff during a meeting on May 3.

Almquist and his company, Frontier Real Estate Investments, have had in mind redevelopment plans for the site and associated downtown property for a while, previously working with the city on other rezoning measures. While the Playhouse property was under review as part of a broader study effort encompassing a proposed 7.3-acre specific plan area that would have included three private parcels and nine city-owned parcels, Almquist recently withdrew that request and instead asked the city to initiate a new General Plan amendment, code amendment and rezone study for the creation of a smaller 1.68-acre specific plan area that was approved on May 3, according to an agenda report. The new area includes four city-owned parcels.

The rezoning creates a zoning area that is particular to the area in question. Frontier Real Estate Investments was selected to enter into exclusive negotiations with the city for development of the property in October 2017 by the City Council.

“The proposed Specific Plan would facilitate the development of a commercial project on the 1.68-acre City-owned property consisting of two, 2-story buildings with approximately 27,457 square feet of retail, restaurant and office uses, and a 4-story parking structure with a 2,607 square-foot retail space,” the agenda report said.

Access to the site would be only from El Camino Real, said David Contreras—the city’s principal planner—during a project presentation to the council. The proposed project would require the demolition of the current Camino Real Playhouse building.

“It is our goal to construct a project that will enhance the community as well as provide important parking solutions to this region of the city,” Almquist said in a letter sent to the city on April 22. “The development team is comprised of key members of Frontier Real Estate Investments, Inc. They have added local architects, landscape architects and development consultants to the project team to ensure a comprehensive approach to the project planning has been undertaken.”

Almquist had previously discussed his plans to build a new downtown performing arts center—possibly near the Historic Town Center Park—and incorporated those details into the prior project proposals submitted to the city, though the new performing arts center component was removed from his updated separate plans for retail and office space at the current Playhouse site. Almquist has been open about seeking funding to build a new performing arts center in downtown San Juan Capistrano. Almquist and Playhouse personnel have previously said current theater staff members would transition to the new performing arts center.

As for the next steps, Almquist will prepare a draft plan. A required environmental review will also be done, and Almquist’s plans will be reviewed by the Cultural Heritage Commission and Planning Commission, who will give recommendations to the City Council—which gets to make the final decision on whether to approve the rezoning measures.

“My only comment is, this looks like a really good project,” Mayor Derek Reeve said during the May 3 meeting. “We’re almost there. We’re so close. This will be a great addition to the community.”

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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