San Juan Hotel & Villas developer says he will take legal action against the city
By Joshua Host, Principal of Urban Village
After seven public hearings, we were elated to receive Planning Commission approval in May for the San Juan Hotel & Villas project. That joy soon dissipated as city staff decided to renegotiate agreements and make new ultimatums. It became obvious that staff leadership was bent on delaying the project from reaching City Council for a hearing.
We lost our first hotel operator because the city added new terms, but fortunately, this time, we were able to reach a modified agreement with the current hotel operator. I met with the City Attorney three days before the council hearing, gave him the news that we were able to comply with the city’s new ultimatum and went back to my office with a big sigh of relief.
Three hours after leaving the City Attorney’s office, I received a call from Charlie View, director of development services. Mr. View informed me that he had researched the General Plan and came to the conclusion that the city had not completed the necessary steps required for the Historic Town Center Master Plan to be consistent with the General Plan, so the City Council would be unable to vote on our project at the hearing.
Our land-use attorney sent an email the next morning with findings that a General Plan amendment was not required. Mr. View did not respond to the email, and two days later, he told the councilmen they would be unable to vote on our project without a GPA. Hans Van Ligten, the City Attorney, went a step further and said it would be illegal for the council to vote on the project.
After 19 months of overcoming red tape, staff leadership had finally created an obstacle that had nothing to do with our project, leaving us helpless. An insider with the city told me that an order had come down from the top to delay the project and this was the method Mr. View used to accomplish the objective.
The GPA was drafted by staff, approved by Planning Commission and then heard by City Council on Aug. 5. This was supposed to be a fix-it bill to correct alleged internal consistencies between the planning documents. Councilman John Taylor recused himself because he lives within 500 feet of the Historic Town Center boundary. Councilmen Roy Byrnes and Derek Reeve voted against the GPA, resulting in a hung council and default denial of the GPA, effectively nullifying years of work and over $500,000 of taxpayer money spent on the HTC Master Plan.
In the Aug. 22-Sept. 11 issue of The Dispatch, Councilman Byrnes wrote a guest column, explaining that he had voted against the project to send a message to the developer. The sad fact is that Councilman Byrnes did not vote against our project—he voted against a GPA to correct the zoning in the Historic Town Center. To spite our project, Councilmen Byrnes and Reeve gutted the HTC Master Plan, leaving 44 acres of land-owners in limbo with respect to their zoning.
Since Aug. 5, we have made every attempt to work with staff leadership and avoid legal action. We have been ignored and rebuffed in a game of hot potato. On Sept. 11, we provided staff with a legal land use analysis that found the HTC Master Plan had been properly integrated into the General Plan and no GPA was required to hear our project. The legal memo also exonerated Grant Taylor and Bill Ramsey who held this same position and had been used as the scapegoats for the fabricated issue.
Staff leadership has been more focused on protecting their jobs than protecting the residents of San Juan from another expensive law suit. After over $1.1 million invested into the San Juan Hotel & Villas project and 21 months of entitlement work, the city has left us with no alternative but to proceed with legal action.
It is irrelevant whether you are for or against the project. Every resident and business owner in San Juan Capistrano deserves a fair process that is free from the manipulation of a powerful few.
Joshua Host is a Partner and Co-Founder of Urban Village. He received his MBA from Pepperdine University and is a board member for the Boys & Girls Club of Capistrano Valley. Joshua lives in San Juan Capistrano with his wife and two young children.
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