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Zoomars Dinosaur

By Brian Park

The Planning Commission on Tuesday will consider the fate of the Zoomars dinosaur, which city staff has recommended for removal despite an outpouring of public support.

Zoomars Petting Zoo owner Carolyn Franks is appealing a June 29 decision made by the city’s Development Services Director Grant Taylor, who determined that the 13-foot-tall, 36-foot-long fiberglass apatosaurus replica was inconsistent with and in violation of the Los Rios Specific Plan.

The Planning Commission is being asked to uphold Taylor’s decision.

“Given the overall purpose of the Los Rios Specific Plan to focus on the 230-year history of the area, and the fact that the dinosaur structure is associated with an unrelated time period (i.e. Triassic period: 200-250 million years ago), the structure clearly does not reinforce the rural and historic character of the Los Rios Area,” the city staff report said.

Franks has maintained that the dinosaur, which has since earned the nickname “Juan,” will serve an educational purpose. She has proposed an educational activity area called “Dinosaur Discovery Dig,” which will allow children ages 3 to 8 to dig for fossils in sand-filled troughs and uncover replica dinosaur bones at a nearby excavation site.

Franks purchased the dinosaur on a whim at an auction in Anaheim. She had it installed at Zoomars on June 13, but less than 24 hours later, Franks received a stop-work order from the city, after a group of longtime residents with ties to San Juan’s historical families complained that the dinosaur interrupted the area’s historical character.

“We trust that the Planning Commission will make the best decision at their meeting,” said Capistrano Historical Alliance President Jerry Nieblas in a statement released on Sunday. Nieblas’ family predates the Mission. “Zoomars has come up with a litany of excuses, cover-ups and attempted to shift the focus to other issues in town. Zoomars has never admitted wrong-doing but cries foul now that there is opposition.”

Since debate over the dinosaur first arose in June, Franks said attendance at the petting zoo has doubled. She and the dinosaur have also received a variety of support.

San Clemente resident Jason Pearson designed T-shirts, mugs, bumper stickers and other items emblazoned with a depiction of the dinosaur and the words “Save the Apatosaurus.” Local artist Art Guevara painted a picture of the dinosaur and is selling postcards of his painting at Zoomars.

“Many people think the dinosaur does not belong in San Juan Capistrano, but the point I want to make is that he was here before anyone else,” said Guevara, who plans on attending the meeting.

James Peterson, CEO and President of Microsemi, an Aliso Viejo-based designer and manufacturer of semiconductor technology, has also pledged to sponsor the dinosaur, after visiting Zoomars with his grandchildren, according to Franks. Peterson has already funded a geological study Franks used as part of her appeal process.

“It’s obvious the public and majority of the people love the dinosaur. All that was done—the T-shirts, the fan clubs, the paintings, the sponsors—all that was done by people on their own,” Franks said. “I’m really looking forward to the meeting … I have faith in our city that they will see that the dinosaur does fit.”

Other items on the Planning Commission’s agenda:

  • [UPDATE] This item has been removed from tonight’s agenda. JSerra’s representative Phillip R. Schwartze of The PRS Group sent a request to the city on Monday to discuss their application at a future date.The Planning Commission will consider J. Serra Catholic High School’s request for a temporary-use permit to install temporary bleachers, a temporary concession area and portable restrooms on the south campus football field. The bleachers would accommodate up to 3,300 spectators during the school’s football season, which runs from August 31 through November 2. City staff is recommending that the commission deny JSerra’s request and direct the school to submit an application for architectural control modification.
  • The Planning Commission will vote on the final design plans for the repair and improvement of the Blas Aguilar Adobe. The proposed modifications include the widening of walkways and the addition of an above-ground platform and hoist over the historic well and the reconstruction of an authentic horno, an outdoor oven made of adobe. Construction will be funded by a $498,434 grant the city received in May 2011. City staff is recommending that the commission recommend approval of the plans to the City Council.

To view the agenda, click here.

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