More al fresco dining may be on tap at and if the Sundried Tomato's owner follows through on a plan to cover the first-floor courtyard with a street-level patio.
“The proposal would effectively convert the lower plaza level to a completely subterranean commercial space,” according to a report the Planning Commission heard at its Tuesday meeting.
The downstairs area, which has seen a regular turnover of retail stores, would become new office space, said San Juan Capistrano Associate Planner Nick Taylor.
Robert Quest, president of the Sundried Tomato, is pursuing the changes with the Franciscan Plaza owners’ blessing, a staff report states.
The idea came before the Planning Commission as just that, an idea. Quest wanted to find out if the city would be open to such a radical change at the Franciscan Plaza, which is also home to and the .
With a few reservations, the Planning Commission said, go for it.
“The stores on the lower level have never been successful just because of access, and you don’t really see them,” said Commissioner Ginny Kerr. On the other hand, “to cover them, it would It would be pretty depressing to go down there and work without a lot of sunlight.”
Commissioner Roy Nunn disagreed, saying there are ways to channel natural sunlight downstairs. Plus, he said, it’s not really up to the Planning Commission to determine what’s commercially viable.
“If they have a problem leasing out that space because it’s too dark, that’s their problem. You won’t see it from the street,” Nunn said. “It’s a good idea and it can enhance the whole plaza.”
The change has the potential to really vitalize the area, said Commissioner Jeff Parkhurst.
“When you drive by Sundried Tomato and Vito’s, you expect to see something happening, and all you see is a hole,” he said.
Taylor said Orange County Sheriff’s Department officials do have concerns about safety with the lack of visibility the new project would bring to the plaza, especially with local businesses such as the theaters and the having long business hours.