By Shawn Raymundo
Revised site plans for the River Street Marketplace project will need to go back to the city’s Planning Commission for review and approval before the city council can consider certifying its environmental report.
Dan Almquist, the mover of the development, said the revised configuration of the plans will include the addition of a few small buildings in lieu of its largest structure—the chief concern among those who had opposed the proposed development.
Based on a draft of that new configuration of the buildings that Almquist recently submitted to the city, city staff has determined that it will need to go through the Planning Commission again, City Manager Ben Siegel told The Capistrano Dispatch on Wednesday, Sept. 4.
“We expect (Almquist) to submit revised plans by the end of next week, and we anticipate presenting the plans to the Planning Commission on September 24,” Siegel wrote in an email. “The public hearing notice for that meeting will be published next week.”
The submission of the updated plans are the result of weeks-long talks with Jeff Vasquez, whose property on Los Rios Street backs up to the site of the marketplace.
Vasquez had been a staunch opponent of the project, having previously warned city officials that its “commercial activity will drive out residents on Los Rios” and have a “detrimental effect.” In late June, an attorney representing Vasquez submitted a letter to the city urging the council to deny the certification of the project’s Environmental Impact Report.
The council’s consideration of the EIR had been delayed multiple times in recent weeks so Almquist and Vasquez could work on amending the plans. Those talks, Almquist said, led to a compromise and win-win solution.
“Jeff was willing to meet, and I’m grateful to compromise and get this win-win, and I’m excited for this project and to move forward,” Almquist said. “It’s a very important project and very personal to me.”
The previous iteration of the plans, which had already been approved by the city’s Planning Commission, as well as the Cultural Heritage Commission, back in May, was set to incorporate five buildings on 65,000 square feet.
Almquist said he and Vasquez reoriented the largest of the five planned buildings—the Marketplace—by separating it into a couple of smaller-sized buildings.
“The Marketplace building has gone down, it’s a little less than half the size of what it was, and the location has changed,” Almquist said, noting that its size had been the primary source of contention.
According to the city, the 23,100-square-foot Marketplace building would have stood at a height of 35 feet.
“The Marketplace is intended to provide patrons with a variety of unique boutique retail shopping opportunities, such as a juice bar, artisanal baked goods, farm fresh produce, gourmet cheeses, and specialty meats,” the city stated in its May 14 report for the Planning Commission. “Onsite dining options may include specialty deli and sandwich shops, specialty food stalls, and craft beer and wine.”
During that Planning Commission meeting, Vasquez presented his own renderings of how the building would create an eyesore for Los Rios Street residents. And in its June 28 issue, The Dispatch published a Letter to the Community written by Vasquez regarding his opposition to the project.
“The Marketplace building is a single-story structure. Why not make it 20-feet-tall instead of 40 feet and move all of the buildings away from Los Rios Street to lessen the project impacts on the Historic District?” he had asked in the published letter.
Overall, the project will include both indoor and outdoor dining, featuring “artisan-type” retailers and businesses. Almquist said that though the structures featured in the plans have changed slightly, the nature of it is still the same.
“I think the character and the intent of the project is exactly the same,” said Almquist, whose firm, Frontier Real Estate Investments, also has an ownership stake in other properties in downtown San Juan Capistrano, including Capistrano Plaza.
Since announcing his submission of the revised plans at the city council’s Aug. 20 meeting, Almquist has stressed that he would like all of the public’s negativity toward Vasquez and his opposition to end.
“I don’t want to hear more about people knocking him,” Almquist stated during the council meeting. “I think it’s time to move past it. . . . I’m very grateful for where it ended up.”
Almquist also noted that the deliberations could have easily gone the other way, pointing to the city’s history of litigation over projects because both proponents and opponents had remained steadfast.
“I’m grateful for Jeff,” he told The Dispatch, “And a lot of times, people get so upset about what they want, it makes it difficult to get that win-win.”
Shawn Raymundo is the city editor for The Capistrano Dispatch. He graduated from Arizona State University with a bachelor’s degree in Global Studies. Before joining Picket Fence Media, he worked as the government accountability reporter for the Pacific Daily News in the U.S. territory of Guam. Follow him on Twitter @ShawnzyTsunami and follow The Dispatch @CapoDispatch.