Although the majority of residents who came to City Hall Tuesday to discuss the Zoomars dinosaur would rather see it go the way of the, well, dinosaurs, the Cultural Heritage Commission voted to support the Apatosaurus.
Only three members of the commission attended, and they voted 2-1 to recommend to yet another panel, the San Juan Capistrano Planning Commission, that it approve Zoomars’ plans for an educational area, which include:
- The 13-foot dinosaur statue, also known as Juan
- Shade structures
- Fossil dig areas
- Native American huts, known as kiichas
Zoomars is situated in the heart of the Los Rios Historic District, known as the oldest residential neighborhood in California.
The Planning Commission has already heard the issue once, when asked to approve Juan after the fact. He did not curry favor. Now the statue is part of a bigger proposal.
“That was unexpected. We have a chance,” said petting zoo owner Carolyn Franks, wiping tears of joy. “Minds are opening. That’s a good thing.”
Not all. All three emails sent to the Cultural Heritage Commission urged a no-vote. Three of four residents who spoke did, too.
“If the dinosaur is allowed, it will set a precedent. And soon the area will turn into an amusement park, like Knott’s Berry Farm,” said Ilse Byrnes, who has opposed Juan since his arrival in late spring.
Sheree Ito of neighboring business Ito Nursey said the Apatosaurus has brought too many visitors to the area.
“The plans for Zoomars that has gone beyond an intensity designed for the district,” Ito said. “That property is so over-developed for this at this point.”
But Commission Chairwoman Rhonda deHaan said bringing more people to San Juan Capistrano and getting them to experience history is only a good thing.
“Kids go there. It’s fun. They learn when it’s fun. It’s a great way to get people to Los Rios who would never go and never learn about it,” she said. “It’s important to keep our history. I would think this would be an awesome chance to share it.”
Commissioner Nathan Banda agreed.
“What a great opportunity for the kids who live here who can’t afford to go to the Discovery Center in Santa Ana or the transportation,” he said.
deHaan added that she agreed that Juan fits the definition of a passive recreational use, which is allowed in the historic commercial zoning.
"It’s a statue. it’s not really doing anything. It’s, to me, as passive as it gets," she said.
Commissioner Jan Siegel was the one official dissent. She said she didn’t appreciate how the “in the middle of the night without any permits or approval, the dinosaur was moved in to its current position.” She called the new plans “an attempt to throw mud at a wall and see what sticks.”
The Planning Commission is expected to review the proposal in December.