By Shawn Raymundo
With a show of overwhelming support from the community, plans to build a marketplace development alongside San Juan Capistrano’s historic Los Rios District cleared a couple of hurdles on Tuesday, May 14.
The Final Environmental Impact Report (EIR) for the River Street Marketplace project will soon go before the San Juan Capistrano City Council for certification, as the Cultural Heritage Commission and Planning Commission each voted to move the report forward.
However, the Planning Commission’s approval to send the EIR to the council came with some caveats. Some of those conditions include a requirement that the developer, Dan Almquist, make a commitment to prohibit weddings and amplified noise at the marketplace, as well as consider implementing a smoking ban.
If the council certifies the EIR, Almquist would then need to prepare construction drawings and submit a building permit to the city, according to City Manager Ben Siegel. The council is likely to consider the project’s EIR in June or July.
Since 2016, Almquist has proposed building the “pedestrian-oriented” marketplace on the southeast corner of Paseo Adelanto and River Street. The plan is to include nearly 65,000 square feet of “indoor and outdoor dining, farm fresh produce, and unique retail venues” across five buildings, according to the city.
To show off “San Juan’s agricultural roots,” as Almquist stated, the buildings in the marketplace would be designed with a craftsman and California vernacular theme, while the landscape incorporates a California-native palette.
The marketplace, Almquist said, would steer away from retail chains and instead cater to “artisan-type” businesses while creating a community gathering place.
Almquist noted that the project has gone through a series of iterations and changes, as he’s worked with the city and community to address concerns such as lighting, noise, security and parking.
Based on concerns brought up in the EIR regarding light poles along the east side of the development—which sits directly behind several homes on Los Rios—the city noted that Almquist has revised the design to instead use bollard lights. The city also noted that there will be nearly 300 parking spaces.
As for safety concerns, Almquist assured commissioners that there would be 24-hour security on the premises and that the eastern strip between the buildings and Los Rios homes would be an emergency-access road only.
During the Cultural Heritage and Planning meetings, which were held back-to-back, commissioners heard from several San Juan residents, many of whom spoke at both meetings. The majority of those who weighed in on the project voiced support, believing it would be great for the city’s economy and business sector.
Carolyn Franks, owner of ZOOMARS Petting Zoo in the Los Rios District, called the marketplace a true “game-changer,” because it could increase foot traffic to the local businesses already in the district, as well as deter homeless individuals from camping in the area.
Los Rios “really needs help; businesses there are barely getting by,” she said, adding that the project “will really reenergize Los Rios.”
Local resident Stacey Fitts questioned why residents wouldn’t want such a project in their backyard and said she’s “very supportive” of the development and wished it had been around when her kids were growing up.
She also said she’s “really excited for it” and will “meet everyone there for a drink in a couple of years.”
While there was considerable praise for the project, there were a handful of opponents who came to City Hall to speak out against it.
One such opponent included Jeff Vasquez, who lives on Los Rios Street. Vasquez, who provided visual aids with his own renderings of how the project will look from the nearby residents’ perspective, raised concerns regarding the buildings being backed up against his yard.
He also warned that “the commercial activity will drive out residency on Los Rios” and have a “detrimental effect.”
Addressing the project’s critics, Stephen Rios, the current owner and occupant of the historic Rios Adobe, which has been passed down through his family for more than 200 years, said he’s not deterred by the project, stating that it’s “certainly going in the right direction” and is happy to see that it enforces the city’s agricultural roots.
“Those that oppose the project have never brought, to my knowledge, any project that had any viability that can be seriously considered as an alternative,” Rios said.