A previous rendering of the proposed San Juan Hotel & Villas. The project, which was approved by the Planning Commission Tuesday, has since been revised to scale back the hotel from the historic Egan House and tone down its color. Courtesy of Urban Village Development Company
A previous rendering of the proposed San Juan Hotel & Villas. The project has since been revised to scale back the hotel from the historic Egan House and tone down its color. Courtesy of Urban Village Development Company

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.

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comments (4)

  • Mechelle Lawrence Adams

    The concern about “dwarfing the park with the proposed residential design” is valid. In this instance the 30 plus homes as designed truly changes the significant character of a place and site rich in historic and cultural value for our community.

    As an example, when my firstborn was in the ages of 3-10 we used to go to the park behind City Hall. It was a lovely place that served as a connector to the historic buildings that sat in front of it and the trail system adjoining the creek bed attached to the park as well.

    Now many years later with my little son, I avoid that park as a destination because the power plant dwarfs the once peaceful and quaint experience with noise, comings and goings, and intruding visual impacts. The site no longer feels comfortable or relaxing or a desirable place to take the family except to pass through. So, simply put, we don’t go there anymore.

    One benefit of this project is that proves that a hotel in SJC has validity no matter what some might say. It also says that we as a community are right to call for strict aesthetic standards from any new proposal that is coming into a well established setting. We are not in a planned community setting here.

    The current bright stark white hotel building situated tightly between the adjoining lower profile Esslinger and the Victorian Egan House, and also across from the El Adobe doesn’t contribute much to the rich visual building fabric of the area.

    This vacant lot is calling out “for sure” for a building to connect it all, but it should be in a manner that supports the historic value of either properties, not just pronounced and yelling out for itself visually to undermine the visual statements that the other buildings make as a reflection of our history.

    Additionally, a sincere challenge with this project is the density of the residential proposed. These two serious considerations are taking place in a planning and development environment that already has a site ready made and zoned for hotel- at the entry to town and just across from the Mission (a Mission Inn site ready to go and be fast tracked).

    Whatever happens, for sure we agree this town needs a downtown hotel, but let’s really take time to make sure we all understand what the permanent visual impact will be from this project. (The on line visual sims are very interesting because of the angles they present. They are rather inconclusive to really telling the true story). As a solution, a 3d visual simulation or model with a view impact analysis from further away and from many more real view points would help out the public decision making process.

    This situation is actually an ironic gift – a gift of time to make sure that this is truly what the community desires. Yes, we all want a hotel, but why not one like Fess Parker’s in los Olivos or the Hotel Valencia in La Jolla or the Seal Beach inn? Can’t you see a bungalow development with porches, adirondack chairs, and sloping roofs? Something special?

    Let’s hold out for something that represents SJC, not something we just have to accept. All economic indicators point to a stronger economy and that means we should keep our standards high as we put the finishing touches on our historic downtown, Los Rios Historic District, and mission business district area.

    Thank you City Council and mayor for this continuation to consider all things before making a final decision. This can’t be easy, but it is worthwhile.

  • After reading this article and one in the OC Register, I once again had to resort to my navy training to understand the situation and find an appropriate solution to this mess. So, after a long conversation with my good friend, Jack Daniels and Little Nellie, my bestest mule, I have these comments.

    The Historic Downtown Master Plan (Laura Freese’s Folly) is an ivory tower exercise in top down government planning at its worst. Its ill thought out, divisive, and conflicted.

    This is just one more FUBAR in a long line of events because City Council members won’t think for themselves; rather, they let staff do the thinking (and the work) for them. It is obvious neither City Council, City Manager, nor staff are familiar with either the General Plan or the Historic Town Center Master Plan (aka Laura Freese’s Folly).

    Staff oversight by City Manager Brust is obviously deficient.

    C/M Brust wants a report, but won’t take responsibility that goes along with her position.

    Developer Host, property owner Oededkerk, and operator Hilton Hotels will sue the City, and the residents will pay the bill with higher taxes to pay off a multi-million dollar settlement. (It won’t be covered by our insurance pool California Joint Powers Insurance Authority.)

    Business friendly, my Little Nellie! (She’s my bestest mule and advisor.)

    Time to clean house of our City Council members, City Manager, City Attorney, etc.

    David Swerdlin, City Council 1994 – 2006

  • San Juan Hotel & Villas: 136-rooms and 33 townhomes.

    Why would a developer intentionally mix conflicting transit occupants in 136-rooms with permanent residents in 33 townhomes?

    It sounds like 33 time-share units to me.

    ps. The Historic Town Center Master Plan is correct. The best location for a hotel is across the street from Mission San Juan Capistrano, abutting the freeway.

  • Why no Fess Parker Inn? Because no developer will build it. It does not pencil out.

    In this project, the homes subsidize the hotel.

    As for James, why would a developer mix “conflicting” occupants such as high-end homes and a hotel? Ever been to the Ritz? Ritz Cove?

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