A city council vote on whether to certify the environmental report for the River Street Marketplace Project was postponed to early August, giving the mover of the plan an opportunity to respond to one critic’s opposition to the development.
Councilmembers on Tuesday, July 2, issued a continuance of the agenda item to their Aug. 6 meeting as, days prior, the city had received a letter from a law firm representing San Juan resident Jeff Vasquez who’s calling on the council to deny the certification of the project’s Final Environmental Impact Report (EIR).
The project’s developer, Dan Almquist, asked the city to delay its consideration of the plans so that he and his team can address the laundry list of grievances Vasquez raised in the letter, which attorneys from Briggs Law Corporation submitted Friday, June 28.
Tuesday’s meeting was set to have a public hearing for the River Street project, followed by the council’s vote on the certification as well as whether to pass the introduction and first reading of ordinances approving the project’s development agreement and amending the Los Rios Specific Plan.
While the council agreed to postpone its consideration of the project, members of the community were still allowed to weigh in on the plans during the meeting and will have a chance to express their support or opposition at the Aug. 6 meeting as well.
For the past few years, Almquist has proposed building the “pedestrian-oriented” marketplace on the southeast corner of Paseo Adelanto and River Street. The project would incorporate five buildings on 65,000 square feet, featuring both indoor and outdoor dining, produce stands and other “artisan-type” retailers and businesses.
In the letter from Vasquez, his attorneys state that approval of the EIR “would violate the California Environmental Quality Act (CEQA),” as well as other local laws including the city’s municipal code.
The firm goes on to dispute several aspects of the EIR, challenging its findings and conclusions on the impacts to aesthetics, air quality, traffic and transportation, cultural resources and noise, among others.
The city on Monday, July 1, announced that Almquist requested the continuance. He explained to The Capistrano Dispatch that he asked the city for the postponement so he can address Vasquez’s concerns.
“It’s very important for us, as we’ve done throughout this entire process, that we do it the right way, which we have,” Almquist said. “It’s unfortunate because when you look at the EIR document, it’s well prepared and extremely thorough … it very conclusively talks about any impacts or mitigated impacts.”
Addressing the council, Vasquez, who has staunchly opposed the River Street project, claimed the report “severely” understates the impacts the development will have. He also stated that impacts are “almost ignored” in the report “paid for by the developer.”
“The author of the EIR would like you believe there is no traffic on Del Obispo (Street) and Alipaz (Street), no train, no gridlock, no noise, and no change to the aesthetic character of the district as a result of this project,” Vasquez said in his prepared remarks.
Only a handful of residents spoke on the project, most of whom shared Vasquez’s concerns including Carolyn Nash, a former city councilmember and mayor. Nash said the marketplace would “subject residents to noise, lights, traffic (and) pedestrian traffic.”
Speaking in favor of the project, San Juan resident Steve Behmerwohld noted the support of other residents who in live in the Los Rios Historic District, such as Stephen Rios, the current owner and occupant of the historic Rios Adobe.
“It’s a good thing for our town,” he said.
Behmerwohld also warned of the possibility of something “a lot worse” being built on River Street.
“I think a lot worse things can happen on this neighborhood,” he said, adding: “Be careful what you wish for before getting rid of this project.”
Following the public hearing portion, Mayor Pro Tem Troy Bourne made a point to clarify comments regarding the payment of the EIR document. Bourne noted that the city staff contracts the third party to conduct the report and then bills the developer for the work.
“No applicant comes into the city and hires their own review team,” Bourne said.
“The city is doing its best to hire independent objective professionals to assess those impacts and using those materials to the degree that we can,” Bourne later added. “There’s definitely not a bias on the applicant’s part.”
In mid-May, the city’s Cultural Heritage Commission and Planning Commission held consecutive meetings where both bodies passed resolutions to move the EIR forward to city council.
The Planning Commission’s approval included a series of stipulations requiring Almquist to make a commitment to prohibit weddings and amplified noise at the marketplace, as well as consider implementing a smoking ban.
Other conditions also require Almquist to ensure there will be adequate street width on Paseo Adelanto for vehicles to get in and out of the proposed angled parking and to have the outdoor seating area near homes on Los Rios to be a designated “quiet area.”
During those May 14 meetings, both commissions heard considerable support in favor of the project.
The city council will continue the public hearing and its consideration of the project on Aug. 6 at City Hall at 5 p.m.