People don’t visit San Juan Capistrano to shop, so if the Cultural Heritage Commission had its way, the city wouldn’t consider a major overhaul for downtown.
“We have something unique and different,” said commission Chairwoman Lorie Porter. “When you’re down on , you’re serene.”
Porter said San Juan Capistrano should leave large commercial developments to neighboring cities, such as San Clemente and Mission Viejo.
“They’re better at it. They’re bigger too. They have the room to expand,” she said.
What attracts crowds to San Juan's downtown are the historic buildings and a well-preserved glimpse into the past, said Porter, who also leads guided architectural tours through downtown.
The commission took a detailed look at the city's Draft Historic Town Center Master Plan and related environmental documents at its meeting Wednesday. Even though four commissioners said they would rather see the city focus on maintaining the historic buildings it already has instead of constructing new ones – and one said she favored no action at all – they did offer some tweaks to the plan:
- The extension of Yorba Street should not go through to El Camino Real and slice the off from Instead it should connect drivers from Del Obispo Street to a new parking garage proposed where the now is.
- The extension of Forster Street from El Camino Real to Del Obispo is acceptable to commissioners as long as the street is small and doesn’t affect the park.
- The parking structure proposed to replace the playhouse shouldn’t be more than two stories high. However, two commissioners, Porter and Janet Siegel, don’t want the parking structure there at all.
- A new City Hall should not be built adjacent to Historic Town Center Park. Some commissioners suggested building it on the parking lot behind the and the , while others said it shouldn’t be in downtown at all.
- The city should restore and not move the Oyharzabal barn, which is behind the and Manuel Garcia adobes. They recommended the city look at other sites for a second potential parking structure.
In the end, commissioners determined they differ slightly in their viewpoints, so they decided they should write individual letters to the City Council. Siegel had already written hers, and she did not mince words.
The project “undermines, overlooks and ignores” the city’s history, she said. “We’re not opposed to change. We are not opposed to making our downtown more pedestrian friendly, but this plan is too large and too modern for our historic community.”
Planning Director William Ramsey said he will recommend to the City Council at its meeting Tuesday that it extend the time allowed for comment so that more residents may weigh in. If approved, the public will have until Jan. 3 to opine.