Downtown Facelift Approved

City Council passes the Historic Town Center Master Plan which needs the participation of the private sector to come to fruition.

It’s been two years in the making, and with a vote of the City Council Tuesday night, San Juan Capistrano finally has a master plan for its historic downtown.

The plan envisions a more pedestrian friendly place that preserves the city’s historic structures, pushes retail shops toward the street with parking behind and adds 239 residential units. 

“It will greatly help economic development,” said Councilwoman Laura Freese. She added that the was the catalyst for rethinking how downtown should ultimately look.

Redevelopment money paid for the $500,000-plus report and environmental analysis . While city officials had hoped some of the projects on city-owned land could have been funded with future redevelopment money, most of the plan depends on cooperation from the private sector.

The reliance on public-private partnerships actually puts San Juan Capistrano ahead of the game, City Council members said.

The plan acts as an “insurance policy for us to be able to compete,” Freese said.

In January, the , saying that the plan would have little impact now that the city is unable to fund many of the envisioned projects, such as a large parking structure at the corner of Ortega Highway and Del Obispo, or the extensions of Forster Street and El Camino Real.

The plan bounced around almost all of the city’s commissions, where it was tweaked here and there but largely supported. Council members added one last-minute change of their own, lifting the ban on possible development where the is located.

That property, which includes the Garcia and Yorba adobes, is owned by the Roman Catholic Diocese of Orange. Art Birtcher, who represented the Diocese in urging approval of the master plan, later told Patch that as of right now, there are no plans for the barn.

“A lot of smart people think that this is a good way to go, so I’m in favor of it,” said Mayor Larry Kramer, in reference to the many people who encouraged passage of the plan, including representatives from the , and property owners in the affected area.

Freese, who originally campaigned in 2008 on the need for a downtown plan, was seen hugging many people in the chambers audience after council approved the plan.

Councilman Derek Reeve was the lone vote against the plan.

“I also agree we need a plan for downtown – it’s critical that we revitalize downtown,” he said. “However, I don’t believe this is the right plan for San Juan Capistrano.”

The plan and its supporters have “visions of grandeur,” Reeve said. But, “we are a small, quaint, historic town. In my opinion, this plan doesn’t fit.”

Councilman John Taylor did not participate in the discussion or vote because he lives too close to the 150-acre area the plan covers.

scott bowie April 04, 2012 at 03:40 PM
maybe if these businesses were local and had some character to them, instead of wall to wall starbucks, etc...i think mr. reeve has a point, its money that talks though, and only companies like starbucks, etc can pony up the cash to buy their spot. i really hope they don't ruin this historic town by turning it into irvine with a sprinking of historic buildings.
Matt Gaffney April 04, 2012 at 08:48 PM
As a member of the Transportation Commission I had many doubts about the plan as presented. The commission wasn't in favor of the extension of Forster street. That idea is totally unworkable. The idea, from the consultant, about "slowing down" traffic on Camino Capistrano prompted me to ask if he'd ever been in Capo on a summer weekend. The idea of extending Ave. Los Amigos to allow ingress & egress to a planned apt. complex is ludicrous. Over 200 units planned & no sidewalks on Los Amigos? I think not. The extension of El Camino Real is crazy, that's an awful lot of private property owners that would need to sign off on that one. What happens to the Swallows Day Mercado if buildings are built on the 2 parking lots behind the Swallows & the Esslinger Bldg? I don't ever see this plan coming to fruition.
Clint Worthington April 04, 2012 at 08:53 PM
This City already had a Downtown Master Plan on file. This is actually the fourth Downtown Master Plan. Another $500,000- in taxpayer money down the drain. Thanks Laura Freese.
Clint Worthington April 04, 2012 at 08:54 PM
Your points are well taken. I agree with you. The slowing down of traffic was absurd. If traffic is any slower, it will be going in reverse.


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