While I support the hotel, the homes undermine San Juan’s historic town center

San Juan Capistrano City Councilman Roy Byrnes. Courtesy of the city of San Juan Capistrano

By Roy Byrnes, San Juan Capistrano City Councilman

Decisions made by our City Council are often difficult and generate a great deal of emotion. The pending Urban Village hotel project is complex because it involves two sharply different parts.

On the one hand, there’s a superior hotel which I strongly support because it will aid our commercial life. The other part of the project—the “evil twin”—imposes 30 townhouse units which are utterly inconsistent with our city’s heritage. That portion of the project needs help. It’s a mediocre housing project which is out of phase with the traditions of San Juan Capistrano. It looks like Legoland to me.

I voted against this project as a means of saying, “Mr. Developer, the people of San Juan deserve better than a Legoland housing tract which has been shoe-horned into their historic town center.” It’s as simple as that.

Some folks disagree with me but it isn’t clear whether they object to my support for the hotel or they object to my disapproval of the housing tract. I’m just a reasonable fellow, trying to help—voting my conscience expecting that people will understand and won’t be fooled.

The choices are stark. This townhouse tract will destroy our historic town center. Yet, we need the four-star hotel. I urge the developer to rework his project so that we can all move forward together.

Roy L. Byrnes, M.D. is a 55-year resident of San Juan Capistrano. He was elected to the City Council December 2012. Byrnes previously served on the council from 1972 to 1976, including two years as mayor. From 1959 until his retirement in 1994, Byrnes was a certified pathologist, working with physicians, clinics and hospitals in Orange County. Byrnes was also an associate clinical professor of pathology at UC Irvine.

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comments (9)

  • The hotel, by itself, is too much massing right on the street. But the project, admittedly is not financially feasible without the townhomes. What about parking/traffic on Camino Capistrano. Build this monstrosity down on the sports field land, if you must. It will KILL and downtown area.

  • Given that it’s currently estimated that California will be out of water in 12-to-18 months if the drought doesn’t end and hotel patrons are not known for the water conservation practices, what do you expect us to do? If the state runs out of water our property values will go in the toilet and our water rates will skyrocket when we have to start trucking water in.

    It’s not just the hotel that will exacerbate the problems created by the drought, the state is allowing the oil companies to consume billions of gallons of water during fracking, while at the same time allowing Coca Cola and Nestle to drain our aquifers as the bottle 100s of millions of gallons for shipment out-of-state and overseas.

    What has the city council done to mitigate our approaching water catastrophe? Your solution-i.e. Build a hotel will do absolutely nothing to mitigate our water problems. It can only exacerbate the problem.

    • If you don’t like the hotel because of water issues, how do you feel about the 400+ unit project for seniors on Del Obispo?

  • I don’t like either. Add the senior project that will remove the last bit of farm in our town. I’m amazed they would consider building either in an already congested area, and the senior project is directly behind all the schools, as if traffic is not bad enough already.

  • Both of these projects are objectionable; each for different reasons. The hotel is not just a hotel. Besides the 30 townhomes who will continually require access at all hours of the day and night (which alone would add tremendous traffic to Camino Capistrano), there will also be the 130 hotel rooms and some retail. And as Joanna Clark noted, huge water usage issues. The site is simply too small to accommodate the massing and sheer size of the project, the townhomes force the hotel portion too far onto Camino Capistrano making for very restricted pedestrian access. Parking is a major problem in San Juan (with the Mission providing NONE) and every effort must be made to preserve and enhance pedestrian activity. Currently, few visitors venture past the Egan House (toward Del Obispo) on either side of the street. And when there are civic activities in the park off El Camino Real it will be a nightmare.

    The senior project at 400+ units hits on the traffic issues and the water issues as well. I visited their “sales office” recently and am familiar with a similar project they built in northern CA which took over 10 years to get final approvals. I asked the representative about what it would cost to live there; his reply was vague, except that they needed a $1000 deposit to hold a place and move in costs would be from about $300,000+maintainence fees to $1,000,000+maintainence fees just to live there with no ownership interest although their paperwork says they cannot take money until they have approvals. I had to assume that was based on approval of the 400+ units, so I asked “what if the City reduces the number of units by 50%. He said “we only need 3 votes and we expect to have this wrapped up by October, before the election for new council members”. I asked what if the City says “no” to the zoning change. He said, “Then we will put 1,000,000 chickens out there.” He also said they have had “meetings” with City representatives and had agreed to build a community swimming pool for them on some other site. Ingress/egress issues will be difficult if not impossible to mitigate. Del Obispo is narrow and lacks much ability to be made wider. The school, the existing sports park all have activities going on daily that provide all the traffic the area can handle and more. All residents MUST be able to live independently initially to be accepted to live there; which assumes many will still be driving. Add to that family/friends coming to visit…..and you have an overwhelming traffic issue. The site is simply too small to accommodate that many units, but the developer needs that many units in order to build the scope of the assisted care facilities as advertised. It’s the wrong thing in the wrong place. It’s way more than just removing the “last bit of farm”.

  • Well said, Bonnie. The traffic situation in San Juan Capistrano has grown worse with each passing year. The addition of the hotel/shops complex, as well as the proposed increase in housing around the hotel and “leisure world” style senior housing project would just add to the traffic congestion. While we could obviously survive the increased traffic congestion, we can not survive the increased demands on our dwindling water supply if the drought continues.

    Increased population growth and the drought are bad enough. But we overlook the effects that the bottled water industry and unconventional well stimulation technologies known as hydraulic fracturing (fracking), hi-rate gravel packing, and acidizing used to produce oil and gas from shale formations have on our water supplies.

    The bottled water industry is pumping our aquifers dry, just as they have done in other parts of the country, and shipping millions of gallons of our water out-of-state or overseas. At the same time, the state is supporting an increase in unconventional well stimulation technologies known as hydraulic fracturing (fracking), hi-rate gravel packing, and acidizing used to produce oil and gas from shale formations. These technologies consume millions, if not billions of gallons of water, endangering our agricultural industry and the health and welfare of every citizen in the state.

    It is bad enough that the state and city council have done nothing other than demand that we all cut back on our water use by 20%. The City Council has ignored requests to ban fracking here in San Juan Capistrano, as a means of sending a message to the State that fracking needs to be banned. Nor have they asked the state to stop the exporting of our water out-of-state and/or overseas.

    The people of the City of San Juan Capistrano have a right to clean air, pure water, and to the preservation of the natural, scenic, historic and esthetic values of the environment. San Juan Capistrano’s public natural resources are the common property of all the people, including generations yet to come. As trustee of these resources, the City of San Juan Capistrano, through its elected officials, is supposed to conserve and maintain them for the benefit of all citizens.

    I suggest that come November we have a choice in who we elect. I suggest that each of us should question the candidates thoroughly on the issues before us, then chose your candidates wisely when you cast your ballot at the polls. The cost of food and water is already rising and the rise will only escalate as our water supplies continue to diminish.

    • Also, well said, Joanna. Your letter address’s the broader concerns. The hotel and seniors project are of immediate concern. Both developers are looking for “immediate” answers, if at all possible BEFORE the November election. It is important that we all understand the “backroom deals”, who is making them, are there more in the works. Then add those questions to quizzing of the candidates.

      We might end up with NO ONE to vote for.

  • Actually, the councilman did not vote against the Urban Village Project. He voted against a general-plan amendment the city staff said was necessary to allow housing in the downtown.

    As it sits, the $500,000 Historic Downtown Master Plan is gutted, a useless waste of money.

    The City Council has not voted on Urban Village’s hotel plan. I’m not sure whether Councilman Byrnes is confused or dishonest with his column. In either case, The Dispatch should have made him be accurate.

  • There are many issues with the hotel. It’s not just the Urban Village Plan. And if the “Urban Village Plan” didn’t take traffic, water, etc. into consideration, the General Plan Amendment was the safeguard for the community. SJC does not really NEED a hotel. This is a myth. What SJC needs is a vision as to what it IS and what it can BE.

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