By Brian Park
San Juan Capistrano city officials and residents want a new hotel downtown, but a proposal to build one drew criticism Tuesday over several elements, including park, massing and its proximity to a historic building.
Urban Village’s $43 million plan, called the San Juan Hotel & Villas, calls for a 136-room, three-story hotel to be built at 31878 Camino Capistrano. The project also includes 33 three-story townhomes, a two-level underground parking garage, 2,700 square feet of commercial space and plans to extend Forster Street to Del Obispo Street.
During a joint workshop, City Council members and Planning Commissioners, as well as a number of residents, expressed their support for a hotel but also the need to proceed cautiously, as the project would be built on one of the few remaining and viable spots in downtown.
“To me, this is the most important project in the history of San Juan,” Commissioner Tim Neely said. “If it goes wrong, it’s going to go terribly wrong.”
Part of the land the hotel would be built on includes property once owned by movie producer Steve Oedekerk, who allowed the city to use a portion of his property as public parking.
Josh Host, principal and co-founder of Urban Village, is requesting a reduction in the city’s requirement for hotel parking, from one space per guest to 0.8—the same allowance the city granted to the Marriott Residence Inn and the now-defunct Plaza Banderas Hotel project. A parking analysis of the project determined it would require 245 spaces, but Host’s plan calls for 28 less.
Mayor Sam Allevato called the reduction “problematic,” and some residents noted that the Marriot hotel is located away from major commercial centers. City staff also said conflicting events at nearby Historic Town Center Park and the hotel could create a parking deficiency and affect downtown businesses. A hotel operator is already in place, said Host, and if a parking reduction is granted, the city could require the hotel to form a parking management plan.
A few residents expressed some concern about seven townhomes that would border Historic Town Center Park. But it was the hotel’s close proximity to the historic Egan House that drew the most criticism from the council and commission, who said the hotel obstructed the view of the home. Members of both bodies suggested the developer scale back a pedestrian walkway away from Camino Capistrano and decrease the height of the hotel.
“The historical importance of the Egan House has to be respected and that means the project has to be pulled back,” Councilman John Taylor said.
San Juan Hotel & Villas is the first major downtown hotel proposal since 2011, when landowner Gretchen Stroscher Thomson’s plan to build a 124-room boutique hotel on Ortega Highway, next to the Mission, was approved. But last November, after struggling for five years to find a hotel developer willing to invest, Thomson abandoned her plans and will now build a shopping center.
Host highlighted the benefits of his project, saying that it would increase and improve pedestrian flow through downtown. He also said the project could generate about $2.4 million in annual revenue for local businesses and $607,000 each year in transient occupancy tax revenue for the city.
Without a hotel downtown, Allevato said the city lost “millions of dollars” to Dana Point. “We need to capture that.”
Allevato also said the project would not only bring more people downtown but give them a reason to stay, as well.
“A lot of vacancies down there. Why? Because there’s no economic synergism there,” Allevato said. “This project will bring some synergism downtown.”
Host presented an aggressive timeline for the project. If approved in April, he said a groundbreaking could happen in September and construction could be completed in 18 months.