San Juan Capistrano resident Joshua Host, principal of Urban Village, addresses the City Council on Tuesday. An attempt to allow residences in downtown San Juan Capistrano failed to pass on a tie vote, putting Host’s project in jeopardy, but he said Thursday he remains committed to the project. Photo: Brian Park
San Juan Capistrano resident Joshua Host, principal of Urban Village, addresses the City Council on Tuesday. Photo: Brian Park

By Brian Park

The developer of the San Juan Hotel & Villas project said this week that the city of San Juan Capistrano has placed unnecessary roadblocks to undermine his plan and that he now intends on taking legal action.

Joshua Host, principal of Urban Village, said in an email that City Manager Karen Brust and members of her staff have “maliciously created unnecessary obstacles for our project.” Specifically, Host said after more than a year of working his proposal toward approval, city staff said the residential component of his project required an amendment to align the General Plan with the Historic Town Center Master Plan, which was approved in 2012 and cost the city about $500,000 and two years of studying.

The discovery occurred in the days leading up to the City Council’s meeting to vote on the project in late June. Charlie View, the city’s development services director, and City Attorney Hans Van Ligten said the city could not legally move forward without an amendment.

Host and his land-use attorneys have contended that no amendment was required and that when their project was first brought to the city, former planning directors Grant Taylor and Bill Ramsey agreed.

Although city staff and the Planning Commission recommended approving the amendment, it failed to pass on the council’s 2-2 vote on Aug. 5, with Councilmen Roy Byrnes and Derek Reeve voting in opposition. Councilman John Taylor recused himself because of his residence nearby. The failed amendment not only voided the 30 homes in the project but eliminated homes in the historic downtown.

“It is not our intent to sue the city. In fact, our intent is to build a high-end hotel and villas that are desperately needed downtown,” Host wrote. “Instead of meeting to resolve the issue created by the city, they have fortified their position to avoid blame from impending fallout. In my humble opinion, this is no way to run a city.”

Urban Village has yet to file a lawsuit.

“The city has not received any information, so we are not in a position to comment at this time,” Cathy Salcedo, a spokesperson for the city, said in an email.

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comments (16)

  • Typical “BULLY” tactics. Host admits he had land-use attorney’s look at the project from the outset. They must, or at least, should have known that residential units would NOT be allowed. Host should be suing his attorney’s.

    • Bonnie,

      This is the first time that me or my partner have had take legal action against a City. We have exhausted every avenue to work with the City on an issue that the City agreed at the City Council meeting on June 29th was a City mistake. We have had not one, but three land use attorneys review the case and they came to the same conclusion that a General Plan Amendment was not required. Further, please review the meeting minutes from City Council hearing on August 12th, 2012. At the hearing the City approved Resolution 12-04-03-12 “A Resolution of City Council of the City of San Juan Capistrano, California Approving General Plan Amendments (GPA) For the Historic Town Center Master Plan”. The City attorney at the time Omar Sandoval opined on the soundness of the GPA incorporating the HTC Master Plan into the General Plan and stated it was sound.

      Further, go back to the City Council hearings regarding the revised General Plan in 1999 and you can review staff agendas relating to the HTC Master Plan as a related document in the General Plan. In addition to the last two City Attorney’s opining on the soundness of the HTC Master Plan both Grant Taylor and Bill Ramsey were in agreement that the GPA has already been completed and no further GPA was required.

      So Bonnie, if that last two City Attorneys, the former Planning Director and Assistant Planning Director determined that the GPA completed on 4/12/2012 correctly integrated the HTC Master Plan why would the new Planning Director reverse the City’s decision?

      More interestingly is the timing. We first submitted the project to the City for review in February of 2013. Subsequently, we have had 7 public hearings and an Ad-hoc committee review. At no time in this process was the zoning of the HTC Master Plan called into question. Then 3 days before City Council the Planning Director reverses the City’s position of the previous 15 years and calls for another GPA.

      Please consider our situation Bonnie. We are not looking for favoritism, just a fair and level playing field free of manipulation. We have been amenable to meet with staff leadership at anytime to resolve this issue. Unfortunately, staff leadership has been more concerned with protecting their jobs than protecting the City from another expensive lawsuit.

  • Joshua,
    I understand your frustration, but new Director Charlie View may have just saved you a lot of money. You would not want to be under construction with a project and be halted when it was discovered that you were not consistent and not conforming to the City’s General Plan and zoning.

    The recommendations for implementing the Historic Town Center Master Plan appear not to have been fully consummated yet, which is not unusual when dealing with development in cities. It appears that the final program environmental impact report was certified and also some text revisions were made to the master plan. What remained to be done was designing and processing amendments to the City’s General Plan (such as the Land Use and Circulation Elements and Parks & Recreation Element); and preparing and processing amendments to Ordinance Title 9 of the City’s Development Code; and, of course, amending the Official Zoning Map. These amendments would have required public hearings before the Planning Commission and City Council. And, these actions are often not initiated until a specific project is submitted for processing by a developer or property owner. It is often a money issue for many cities.

    Now, at this time, perhaps an easier approach for you would be to have a knowledgeable planning firm prepare a Specific Plan for just your proposed project. If I understand correctly, you will know be helped by the fact that the City has approved the final program environmental impact report for the entire downtown, which includes your site.

    While “Master Plans” do not have much status or force in the State of California, “Specific Plans” are typically used to implement the more conceptual master plans (when such master vision documents are utilized by a community). A specific plan is a hybrid that can combine policy statements with development regulations. It is often used to address the development requirements for a single project such as urban infill or a planned community. As a result, its emphasis is on concrete standards and development criteria. Its text and diagrams will address the planning of necessary infrastructure and facilities, as well as land uses and open spaces. A specific plan may be adopted either by resolution, like a general plan, or by ordinance, like zoning. However, Specific Plans must be consistent with all facets of the general plan, including the policy statements. In turn, zoning must be consistent with the specific plan. So, your project may still need an amendment to the City’s General Plan.
    It has been my experience that a “Master Plan” is just the first step. There are a lot of details that must be addressed before a developer gets to pull a building permit. The City’s “Master Plan” only appears to have got your project started.

    It may be more productive to sit down with the Development Services Director and City Manager rather than waste time and money pursuing legal action.

    I think city staff is correct in that adding the residential components to your project requires that the Planning Commission and City Council consider an amendment to align the General Plan with the Historic Town Center Mater Plan, which they may or may not want approve do. Or, maybe pursue a specific plan for your site. Either way, it is still a discretionary action by the Planning Commission and City Council.

    Of course, my urban planning and development career only spanned 40 years plus; so, I suggest working with a fresh young guy like Mr. Charlie View. He appears to know what he is doing.

    • James,

      Thanks for the extensive time you spent writing your post. I am most interested in your 40 years of land use experience. What is your last name and the name of your firm?

      I imagine it would be difficult to write your post without having the time to research the last 15 years of planning documents incorporated by the City. This may be something to consider before using generalizations.

      Your Comment 1:

      It appears that the final program environmental impact report was certified and also some text revisions were made to the master plan. What remained to be done was designing and processing amendments to the City’s General Plan (such as the Land Use and Circulation Elements and Parks & Recreation Element); and preparing and processing amendments to Ordinance Title 9 of the City’s Development Code; and, of course, amending the Official Zoning Map.

      Response:

      The Historic Town Center Master Plan (HTCMP) was approved by resolution 12-04-03-03. This resolution provided a 4 page narrative identifying the consistencies between the HTCMP and the General Plan Goals and Policies. According to the General Plan this is a necessary step to incorporate a Public Plan. A General Plan Amendment (GPA) for the HTCMP was approved by resolution 12-04-03-02. This resolution provided necessary revisions to the Land-Use Element, Circulation Element and Parks & Recreation Element pursuant to Section 9-2.301, Development review of Title 9, Land Use Code of Cities Municipal Code.

      Your Comment 2:

      Now, at this time, perhaps an easier approach for you would be to have a knowledgeable planning firm prepare a Specific Plan for just your proposed project. If I understand correctly, you will know be helped by the fact that the City has approved the final program environmental impact report for the entire downtown, which includes your site.

      Response:

      This is a ridiculous path of action James. The City spent 2 years, countless staff hours and over $500k in taxpayer money to prepare the Master Plan and Form Based Code. The goal of the HTCMP was to provide a streamline process for developers to revitalize the Downtown. The approval of the EIR as you mentioned, allowed conforming projects to avoid the lengthy EIR process. The form based code was to provide developers with clear set of planning guidelines for design and density. A process for completing projects under the HTCMP was clearly defined. Drafting a Specific Plan for our project would be unnecessary and counter-productive.

      Your Comment 3:

      While “Master Plans” do not have much status or force in the State of California, “Specific Plans” are typically used to implement the more conceptual master plans (when such master vision documents are utilized by a community). A specific plan is a hybrid that can combine policy statements with development regulations. It is often used to address the development requirements for a single project such as urban infill or a planned community. As a result, its emphasis is on concrete standards and development criteria. Its text and diagrams will address the planning of necessary infrastructure and facilities, as well as land uses and open spaces. A specific plan may be adopted either by resolution, like a general plan, or by ordinance, like zoning. However, Specific Plans must be consistent with all facets of the general plan, including the policy statements. In turn, zoning must be consistent with the specific plan. So, your project may still need an amendment to the City’s General Plan.
      It has been my experience that a “Master Plan” is just the first step. There are a lot of details that must be addressed before a developer gets to pull a building permit. The City’s “Master Plan” only appears to have got your project started.

      Response:

      I am in general agreement with your description of master plans and specific plans. The difference here is that the Master Plan was paired with the Form Based Code (Section 9-3.316 Title 9, Land Use Code, San Juan Capistrano Municipal Code, Historic Town Center Form Based Code). By itself the Master Plan does not provide necessary development and design standards that would be included in a specific plan. The GPA Resolution 12-04-03-02 also approved the Historic Town Center Form Based Code (Form Based Code). The Form Based Code provides the necessary development and design standards to process a project without the need for a subsequent public plan (pg. 3, Historic Town Center Form Based Code).

      Your Comment 4:

      It may be more productive to sit down with the Development Services Director and City Manager rather than waste time and money pursuing legal action.

      Response:

      Neither me or my partner have ever pursued legal action against a City. This has been our last resort after the City has refused to work on a solution to an issue they created. The last two City Attorney’s opined that the HTC Master Plan had been properly incorporated into the General Plan. This was the same policy decision held by the last three Planning Directors and former assistant planning director, Bill Ramsey, that had been with the City for 20+ years. The new Planning Director changed 15 years of City findings based on 3 days of review. When our land use attorney provided findings that challenged his claim neither he or the new City Attorney responded. We have had 3 land use attorneys opine on this issue and the last land use attorney prepared a legal opinion with extensive case law supporting his findings. The City has never produced a legal opinion for their position. Further, when their findings have been challenged they are not willing to respond.

      This is only one of several documents issues with the City. James, we have made several attempts to work with the City and are amenable to meet and work out a solution. Staff leadership is more concerned with protecting their jobs than protecting the residents of San Juan from another expensive lawsuit.

  • Please build your hotel without the residence. A much better plan for the town center and SJC

    • Hi Marilyn,
      I would greatly appreciate the opportunity to meet with you to better understand your concern. You can reach me at 949-282-7260 and I am around most days. I have all the plans so we can go over them in detail and discuss. jph

  • I believe that a “Boutique” hotel would be a nice addition to the town. However, adding condos and am I to understand that there is talk of single family homes as well? This is just not where this should go. The congestion in town is horrible. This is a historic small town and I believe we should do everything in our power to keep it that way. I have lived in San Juan Capistrano for most of my life. My husband comes from one of the founding families of the Mission and we are COMPLETELY against such “improvements” in the city.

    • This site is NOT the right place. It’s too small. The addition of the residential units is because the developer needs the revenue from them in order to make the project financially viable. It is not a benefit to SJC.

      • Hi Bonnie,

        The City completed a financial analysis in 2010 on the Plaza Banderas (You can find it on the City’s website). The financial analysis found that the Plaza Banderas had a $4.7 million dollar gap. Meaning that it was upside down $4.7 million dollars. This is the reason it was never built.

        While the villas subsidize the hotel they are also an integral part of any thriving Downtown. This is also the historical land use for the property and surrounding properties. At one time El Camino Real was lined with adobe’s and the Mendelson Inn sat where the Historic Town Center Park is now. Residents downtown provide a consistent vibrancy. Just look at the electric benefit from the residents on Los Rios, or in the El Horno area.

        When Michael Bohn, one of the authors for the Historic Town Center Master Plan attended a Planning Commission hearing on the San Juan Hotel & Villas project he said something that stuck out to me. He said that 30 homes is a drop in the bucket compared to what they envisioned for residential downtown. The plan calls for a total of 239 residential units. By only putting 30 residential units on our property we are greatly reducing the potential for residential in the Downtown, but we believe the hotel will help to make up for the vibrancy.

        Benefit to the Town is huge Bonnie. The city only gets 10% of the property taxes, but 100% of bed tax (that is a big difference). The hotel project will generate over $700k a year in bed tax that goes straight to the general fund. This is money needed to fix pot holes, maintain open space and keep the amazing programs in San Juan going.

        The small businesses in Downtown win huge! The revenue from hotel guests and villas residents will provide much needed lubrication for small businesses in town. This will give these businesses the money they need to make improvements that we can all enjoy. It also gives landowners the money necessary to keep historic buildings well maintained.

        How about jobs, another benefit. This project will create hundreds of temporary construction jobs and nearly 100 full time jobs once the hotel, spa, restaurant and roof top bar are operational. These are jobs that will help local families.

        Ok, we have only looked at the benefits if the project is approved. Let’s look at the alternative. What are the results if the project is not approved.

        1.) The private parking lot totaling 122 lots will remained closed.

        2.) The homeless issue on the property will persist creating safety issues for nearby employees and pedestrians.

        3.) If the property is developed it will be high density residential. We are currently 46% below the recommended density. You can expect any future project to be primarily residential and a lot of units (no hotel).

        4.) The businesses downtown will continue the open–close cycle that you have seen for 40+ years. Instead of the continuity the revenue of the hotel would provide.

        When something works we don’t want to change it. I get that. Unfortunately, things changes whether we like it or not. Last week at the property a homeless man threatened my life when I asked him to leave. The week before that a shirtless, homeless man defecated right outside of Pat’s Barbershop while she was with a client. When she told him to leave he aggressively came after her. We cannot control whether things will change, but with proactive effort we can control how they will change.

        We have the largest owner and operator of boutique hotels in the country as the hotel operator. They were the first company to introduce boutique hotels in the US so they have the know how to get it right. The exterior design of the hotel is already beautiful. They will make sure the inside and branding of the hotel match the Historic Downtown. They are thinking about themed suites, think Judge Egan Suite. They are thinking about museum space.

        This is an exceptional opportunity and I am truly amazed it has come together. We can seize this opportunity or end up with another O’Reilly Autoparts.

        I can only hope for the former. jph

    • Hi Lisa,
      There are no longer any detached single family residences. There are 30 attached villas on the hotel grounds. The concept would be comparable to St. Regis or the Montage (just not as pricey). The Villas are just as much a part of the hotel as the hotel rooms. Owners of the villas get all the amenities of living at a luxury boutique hotel (pool service, maid service, room service, fitness, valet for guests).

      There are a couple of important facts to mention:

      1.) We are 46% below the recommended density in the Historic Town Center Master Plan.

      2.) The villas are million dollar homes with stunning architecture and landscaped grounds.

      3.) We are buying, building and dedicating Forster to the City, for residents. If you look at our traffic report by adding Forster Street we are actually increasing the level of service for traffic.

      4.) The buyers for these villas currently live in Peppertree Bend, Hunt Club, Coto and Nellie Gail. They no longer need the 6,000+ square foot house or 1/2 acre yard. They want a walkable environment where they don’t have to drive. These buyers will live and play Downtown helping our restaurants and retail.

      5.) This project protects the site from being developed as high density affordable housing. The recommended density is 33 units to the acre, while the proposed project is only 19 units to the acre. At 33 units to the acre on 3.17 acres that would be 104 units. In San Juan you are required to provide for 10% affordable housing. The state allows for a 35% bonus density for affordable housing. So now we are talking about 141 condos on the site instead of 30! This is not hyperbole, there are other developers with just this plan in mind.

      6.) Please, please look at the site plan and architecture of the site. We are open to any suggestions if you are interested in sitting down and discussing.

      Thanks, jph

  • “There are 30 attached villas”. “Owners of the villas get all the amenities of living at a boutique hotel….”. That means they are NOT part of the hotel, they are CONDOs.

    You can’t teach a pig to sing. They are not good at it and it just makes them angry.

    • Hi Bonnie,
      I got a kick out of your pig analogy, but I don’t see the connection. The Villas are on the hotel grounds and have all the access that guests in the hotel rooms have. This is not a new concept and has been successfully done at many luxury hotels. A few local examples would be the St. Regis and The Montage. Our hotel operator is the first and largest boutique hotel operator in the country with 61 boutique hotels. Each hotel is customized to fit the unique fabric of its location.

      This project as a whole is architecturally stunning, it creates numerous pedestrian connection points and has more landscaping than any other developed parcel in the Historic Town Center, excluding the mission (91 trees on 3.17 acres). As a legacy project fore and my partner our goal is for this property to be on the historic registry 70 years from now.

      • Joshua~the pig comment was in response to your comment that there were no longer residences on the property. Call them whatever you want to confuse folks who don’t understand, but if they are “owned” by individuals other than the hotel, they are condos. If they are “owned” by another entity, they would be timeshares. You can separate them from the hotel, create CC&R’s for them, refer to them as “on the hotel grounds”, give them access to food services, etc……but they are what they are. And they will impact traffic, parking, access to the park, etc.

        It is much the same as Laguna Glen saying they only have 407 units….when in fact they will have over 500 with the units in the assisted living section. Their project in Northern CA is the same….the assisted living portion is a separate LLC but on the same grounds, shares the same entrance, etc.

        As regards the architecture, it crowds the street on Camino Capistrano, will force pedestrian traffic too close to the roadway, dangerous during community events. There is no way to widen the street. It is simply trying to put too much structure on too small a space.

        San Juan is confused about it’s identity and it’s place in the world. The notion of a hotel has been running around for 35 years or more. The parcel that is now Heritage Park was supposed to be a hotel years ago. Until adobe ruins were found on it…..so they covered it up with grass that must be watered (which will percolate and destroy the adobe walls) and called it a park. The City tried first with Franciscan Plaza, which turned out to be a disaster. Owned by out of state developers, rents were increased so high that small town merchants failed. Some of the same is true with Promenade across the street; there are always empty suites. The Mission, biggest generator of traffic is not required to provide any parking. The busloads of 4th graders don’t spend much money in town, nor do the busloads of seniors from Leisure World. The fact is, there really isn’t much to do in San Juan that would keep folks there for more than half a day, except for when there’s a rodeo. And that isn’t the crowd you are targeting.

      • Bonnie,
        I never said there was no residential. I said there was no longer Single Family Detached in response to Lisa N’s comment above. The units were attached to eliminate an inconsistency between the HTC Master Plan and our project. The units are now attached townhomes.

        The residential provides 100% of required parking, plus the hotel provides the residential guests with valet services. The buyers of the residential villas are moving downtown because they want to be in a walkable environment. So in reality because every time an owner walks Downtown they do not need parking. That is 60 parking stalls, excluding guests, for potential patrons that will not add to Downtown parking.

        As for traffic we are buying, building and dedicating Forster Street for public use. This will break up a huge super block making traffic downtown more manageable.

        I do not agree that there is nothing to do in San Juan. There are 51 restaurants and 500,000 square feet of commercial square feet within 10 blocks from our project. We have the playhouse, movie theatre, wine bars, park events, Mission events and much more.

      • If the downtown plan says, “no residential”, that doesn’t just mean SFD. You know that. It includes townhomes, condos, etc.

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