The City Council approved Tuesday a new park and events center for the east end of town that at least one councilmember called “overdesigned.”
On a split vote after a three-hour hearing, the council gave the green light to the future Reata Park and Event Center along Ortega Highway at Reata Road that will feature equestrian corrals, a welcome center and an event center which could serve as a wedding venue.
“I see this as overdesigned. This is not passive space. This is a commercial park,” said new Councilman Roy Byrnes, the city’s top vote-getter in the recent election.
Both Byrnes and Reeve said they wanted more time to evaluate the proposal, especially Reeve said, how such a property would be managed.
“Who’s going to manage it, we don’t know. Do we have a plan for this event center, no we don’t,” Reeve said before making a failed motion to have the city attorney’s office come back with a report on the legalities first.
“What’s the rush?” he asked.
A nonprofit, the San Juan Capistrano Open Space Foundation, will pay for most of the construction-related costs, said foundation President Brad Gates, a former Orange County sheriff.
Time is of the essence, he said, because the foundation has key donors waiting in the wings with checks based on the council’s approval.
A number of residents, however, spoke out against the park, saying it will serve the future Rancho Mission Viejo development more than the city’s own residents.
Future residents will “flock that area to walk their dogs,” and the city will be left holding the poopy-pick-up bag, quite literally, said resident Mark Speros.
He urged the city to take its time and study the consequences, “before we create a giant quagmire [that is] quite frankly feathering another’s nest.”
But Councilman Sam Allevato said residents have wanted the 18-acre property to be a park since before the property was annexed into the city several years ago. The park’s master plan would build out 12 of those acres and serve as great spot to eventually connect to regional bike and horse trails.
Councilman Larry Kramer noted that the project has been in front of many different city commissions for various hearings.
“I know we don’t have all the answers, but it does a lot of good for us,” he said. “If it wasn’t for the Open Space Foundation we wouldn’t have anything at all. I am willing to move on this project as quickly as we can.”