San Juan Capistrano wine aficionados, get your glasses ready.
The City Council chose an Orange County-based winery as its “preferred tenant” for a historic property in the north end of town last night.
At their Tuesday meeting, officials voted 5-0 to begin negotiations with Hamilton Oaks Vineyard and Winery, the Trabuco Canyon-based company that wants to set up a wine-tasting room at 29991 Camino Capistrano, the site of the .
The Swanner House is listed on the National Register of Historic Places, and its "Craftsman Style" architecture dates back to 1923. The property consists of a 2,220-square-foot house, a detached garage and water tower. The property itself is 2.6 acres and includes an orange grove and is surrounded by another 63 acres of oranges.
Two other organizations submitted proposals for the historic location: another winery called NapaSouth — which also proposed a wine tasting room — and OC Arts Center, a nonprofit that wanted to use the site to house a community art center.
"It’s a tough decision, as far as identifying the preferred tenant. I’m going to have to go with Hamilton Oaks," said Councilmember Laura Freese, adding: "They have been very actively involved in going through the (city’s application) process, which is really a tough thing around here."
In addition to the wine tasting, Hamilton Oaks’ proposal includes creating a small demonstration vineyard as an educational way to show how Mission Grapes were planted in the early days of .
Some of the other improvements proposed by Hamilton Oaks include on-site signs, access for visitors with disabilities and landscape and orchard maintenance.
As part of the Swanner House’s historic status, tenants can make no structural changes to the inside or outside of the buildings, and no citrus trees can be removed unless they are dead or diseased.
The winery's proposed hours of operation are 11 a.m. to 6 p.m. Tuesday through Thursday, 11 a.m. to 8 p.m. Friday and Saturday and 11 a.m. to 5 p.m. Sundays. The site would be closed on Monday and open until 10 p.m. on special days for private events.
One of the owners of Hamilton Oaks, Ron Tamez, hopes to open the site up to the public by May 1.
“We would be able to host weddings, wine-making (events), dinners, birthday parties and special events which currently we are not doing at our local facility in Trabuco because we don’t have the parking,” said Tamez during public comments on the item. “I would imagine that our revenue would double what we currently have. “
Under the proposal, Hamilton Oaks would lease the land for five years at $3,000 a month, with another five-year lease optional.
Before the 5-0 vote, a number of residents spoke, including representatives from all three groups which had submitted proposals.
Andrew Kardish of NapaSouth said that his company has been willing to work with the city for a while.
“We’ve had our arms wide open,” Kardish said. “It’s a business proposition, but we want it to be win-win.”
Victoria Repasky, founder of OCArts Center, said that she thought the site could be a center for "education and development" in Orange County.
A handful of councilmembers said they thought the center would be better housed somewhere closer to the center of town.
“I love the OCArts,” said Councilman Sam Allevato. “I love you for hanging in there. I hope we can find a place for you.”
“I hope so too,” Repasky said from her seat in the audience.
After the vote, Repasky said she still wants to find a site for the center locally.
“We’d like to be here in San Juan,” Repasky told Patch. “We’d just like the city to bring an option to the table, a viable option for us. We want to find a place.”
Members of a number of city commissions have weighed in on the proposed project.
On March 19, Al King and Tom Ostensen, commisioners on the city’s Open Space, Trails and Equestrian Commission, wrote a letter to the council that stated, at the time, .
The two commissioners also said that the city had an “absence of an effective application review process for unsolicited proposals” – like the one submitted by Hamilton Oaks.
King spoke to the council on Tuesday night and said that if it weren’t for the commissioners' urgings, the council would not have received much of the expanded site plan information from Hamilton Oaks.
King added that the council shouldn’t “cringe” at the thought of involving the commissions.
“We want to encourage you to send those items to the commissions,” King said. “We’re merely asking to be part of the team, to be part of the process.”
In other business, the council:
- Approved the final plans for Dr. Joe Coreste Dog Park at the Northwest Open Space.
- Voted to allow to the city’s access to the East Open Space Parcel 8, Lemon Grove Parcel, to start building a park.
- Despite objections from two utilities commissioner, voted 3-2 to not pay a $23,000 request from the . The decision terminates the membership in the project and the city will lose a seat on the project table. A representative from the Municipal Water District of Orange County said that the chances were “not great” that they city would get back the $662,961 contributed to the project to date.
- Voted 4-1 to allow a live bull exhibit at the on Saturday.
- Heard from Cynthia Russell, chief financial officer and treasurer for the city, who gave the council an update on the second quarter financial figures.
- Was seen live, streaming on the web, for the first time at the city’s website.
The next City Council meeting is scheduled for 6 p.m. April 3 at , 32400 Paseo Adelanto.