By Brian Park
An apparent oversight in the planning process has delayed a proposal to build a 136-room hotel and 33 townhomes in the heart of downtown San Juan Capistrano but city officials and the developer say they will continue to move forward with the project.
The City Council was scheduled to vote on Urban Village’s $43 million San Juan Hotel & Villas project Thursday night, but last week, city staff discovered the General Plan had not been rezoned to comply with the city’s Historic Town Center Master Plan, which was approved in 2012 to manage growth and encourage pedestrian travel in downtown.
Charlie View, the city’s development services director, and City Attorney Hans Van Ligten said the city could not legally move forward and allow the townhomes unless the two plans were harmonized.
The council voted 3-1 to begin a General Plan Amendment, with Councilman John Taylor abstaining because of his home’s proximity to the area. The council will now consider the project on Aug. 5.
After the meeting, City Manager Karen Brust said View will look into why the General Plan was not updated two years ago. She said staff turnover since the master plan was approved may have contributed to the problem. View was hired last December, taking over for interim director Nelson Miller, who replaced Grant Taylor in April.
The project is further complicated because city staff discovered that the proposed townhomes are detached, separated by a 4-inch space. By the city’s definition, the residences are single-family homes, which are not allowed in the project site.
In an email sent to Brust on Tuesday, Joshua Host, principal of Urban Village, said his plans were made clear from the beginning and provided two documents, from as early as May 2013, detailing the project.
View told the council that the residences did not share any wall or roofs, although they appeared that way on submitted designs.
“If there was a common wall, frankly, we wouldn’t be having this discussion,” View said.
The council voted 4-0 to allow detached homes in the area.
Although he voted against the General Plan amendment because of his opposition to homes in downtown, Councilman Derek Reeve voted in favor of detached homes because if the city allows homes in downtown, he said detached residences should be allowed as well.
Host said the delayed vote threatens his project and called the situation “unjust.”
Last month, Urban Village received a commitment from Hilton Worldwide to operate a full-service, four-star hotel and signed a contract with a Hilton-recommended developer. The delayed vote may put Urban Village in breach of contract with that developer, according to Host.
“We are completely powerless to the process,” Host said.
Further, the land the project is to be built on—3.17 acres located at 31878 Camino Capistrano—is owned by movie producer and San Juan Capistrano resident Steve Oedekerk. Host said Wednesday that Oedekerk had become frustrated by the city, and after it was announced that the council’s vote would be continued, Oedekerk decided not to extend the purchase agreement for the land.
“At this point, the project is dead because we don’t have a property anymore,” Host said. “Steve just lost faith in the process.”
Host said he is hoping to come back to Oedekerk with an approved project.
For years, Oedekerk has allowed the city to use his land as free public parking, but to secure the lot financially and from problems caused by a growing homeless population at nearby Historic Town Center Park, he said he may privatize the lot and no longer consider his land for future development. During the city’s Summer Nites concert at the park on Wednesday, “no parking” signs were placed at his lot.
Oedekerk lambasted the city for the discrepancies and delays. He also addressed critics’ concerns that 33 townhomes were too much for the area, saying no other developer that had approached him presented a plan with less than 125 residences.
“A mistake was made, the city screwed up,” Oedekerk said. “The culpability would be gigantic, man.”
Taylor said the project needed further work, specifically that garages would be facing Forster Street, which is planned to be extended all the way through to Del Obispo Street. Unlike his downtown neighborhood in the Los Rios Historic District, Taylor said the current configuration was not pedestrian friendly.
“It’s important to me that we can meet and figure out a way to make that work,” Taylor said.
If a general plan amendment is approved to allow homes in downtown, Reeve said he would not simply reject the plan. He sympathized with Host and said he hopes the council will be able to come to a decision Aug. 5.
“Frankly, you deserve a decision,” Reeve said.