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Zoomars Dinosaur's Days Numbered?

In a 4-2 vote, the Planning Commission decides a statue of an Apatosaurus doesn't blend with the 230-year-old character of the Los Rios Historic District.

The San Juan Capistrano Planning Commission said Tuesday night Juan the Zoomars dinosaur statue is not compatible with the character of the Los Rios Street Historic District.

But Zoomars Petting Zoo owner Carolyn Franks said she still holds on to hope that a compromise can be reached.

Three of the six members of the Planning Commission said they could foresee approving the Apatosaurus statue if it were completely screened.

But Commissioner Sheldon Cohen made a motion to deny Juan outright, and it passed with a 4-2 vote, with members Jeff Parkhurst and Tim Neely voting opposed.

Franks said she doesn’t know yet if she needs to appeal the decision to the City Council.

“I’ll speak with Grant” Taylor, development services director, Franks said. The commission’s comments confused her, Franks said, because she already included plans to shield the dinosaur’s visibility from the streets.

“Everything was already addressed that they were asking for,” she said. “We were careful to meet all the requests of the first planning hearing.”

Franks brought the dinosaur to Zoomars back in June without permission. She first asked for retroactive approval, but after getting turned down, she submitted a much larger plan that included a fossil dig area, shade structures and Native American huts.

The commission said they wanted to see more details about the non-Jurassic aspects of the plans and postponed that portion of the Zoomars’ request to a future meeting.

Sixteen people, mostly San Juan Capistrano residents but also visitors from Ladera Ranch, Dana Point and Laguna Niguel, came to offer their opinions. 

Stephen Rios, whose family has lived in the namesake neighborhood for nine generations, said the divisiveness Juan has brought to the community has made him uncomfortable. He’s friends with Franks, and he’s friends with people who oppose the dinosaur.

“I don’t’ enjoy being here tonight under these particular circumstances,” Rios said. But in the end, he has to uphold the integrity of the historic district, protected by city laws known as the Los Rios Specific Plan.

Only three of the speakers urged support of the Apatosaurus.       

“The dinosaur lives in the hearts, minds and imagination of children and their families,” said Curt Abdouch, former administrator of the La Brea Tar Pits and a consultant for Franks. “Children should not have to pay the price for the behavior of adults. I’m just trying to prevent a dinosaur extinction in San Juan Capistrano.”

Franks said she could have brought hundreds in to bolster her cause, but she trusted the commission to agree with her that Juan is a passive recreational use allowed in the commercial area of the Los Rios Specific Plan.

It was the very commercial nature of the statue that turned off some speakers. Lori Porter, who gives guided walking tours in Los Rios, said a tourist asked her what purpose Juan served.

After thinking about it, the simplest answer is to make money, Porter said.

“It is a commercial venture that takes place with the dinosaur. It stands out over everything else. It really is a great marketing plan,” she said. But visitors don’t come for the commercial aspects. “That’s part of what they experience, but that’s not why they come.”

Planning Commission Chairman Robert Williams agreed.

“The dinosaur is there is for one purpose only. It’s for a commercial use. It’s to make money, and I have a hard time with that. The Los Rios district is to preserve the history of San Juan Capistrano,” he said.

Whiskey Bent January 09, 2013 at 05:35 PM
For Planning Commission Chairman Robert Williams: When did making money become a bad thing?
Kim January 09, 2013 at 09:33 PM
PubliusSJC... making $ is not a bad thing..what is bad is the way Franks just decided to erect it in a historical area with no regards to city codes or laws. U just don't seem to get it! Wonder where all her hundreds of supporters were to bolster her case? Maybe in her imigination!
Penny Arévalo (Editor) January 09, 2013 at 10:01 PM
She said she asked them to stay home. She said she had many requests to come and support her, but she advised against it, believing a show of force was not necessary.
Kim January 09, 2013 at 10:40 PM
Well Penny, that's a nice story, but , anyone who has gone in front of the Planning Commission or City Council knows they need supporters who are willing to speak in person. We'll see when and if Franks appeals to the City Council.
Penny Arévalo (Editor) January 09, 2013 at 10:41 PM
Just reporting what she said!
ca January 09, 2013 at 11:27 PM
kim, just go away... dusty.. too bad you are so easily swayed.... caroline, just let us know and we'll be there!
Dusty W Otero January 09, 2013 at 11:40 PM
I was at the meeting were you ca,,,it wasnt easy until I heard Steve Rios speak,,,she did break the law,,its a done deal good luck..
Frank E. January 10, 2013 at 12:00 AM
anyone who takes the time to read the Los Rios Plan will realize the Planning Commission made the right call. Whether Dino was screened or not, it doesn't belong. Commissioner Cohen made the right call.
Kim January 10, 2013 at 12:11 AM
Yes, Bravo to Commissioner Cohen.....he made the right call. Screening it will just make a bigger blight. It's just wrong all the way around. Bye Bye Juan!
Whiskey Bent January 10, 2013 at 02:09 AM
Kim, I don't necessarily disagree with you about Juan. I really don't care. I just thought the statement was odd.
ann halliday January 10, 2013 at 06:14 PM
This gigantic statue is in a particularly fragile and unusual historic district. Shops and restaurants are mostly in tiny old workers cottages close to the train station. This is one of the very rare, both in California and nationally, areas where workers cottages have survived. It includes the Rios adobe house, built in the 18th century for example. It really is a national treasure and historic protection is entirely appropriate. The small petting zoo fits in with the slightly rural quality of the neighborhood, but large scale amusement park style commercialism is not appropriate. Most people go to San Juan Capistrano for historic tourism (and high end tourism at that). Losing these neighborhoods would be killing the goose that lays the golden egg. I live in Los Angeles and found this neighborhood almost by accident. I strongly recommend a visit...several restaurants there serve amazing brunches.
Janice Pickartz January 10, 2013 at 07:02 PM
Though Stephen Rios is clearly trying to be a good neighbor to Carolyn, it is important to note that he took a stand to protect history. Thank you Penny for including Stephen's comments defending the historical integrity of Los Rios St.
Barb January 10, 2013 at 10:22 PM
So it is a popularity contest then? It would have made it a circus to bring parents to a meeting like this. It became a circus anyway. Stop the hate people, please. Kim, don't believe everything you hear or read. The email that was sent out about her bringing dozens of people was a lie and wrong, she never said that and it was never in the plans. We all agreed from day one that that kind of tactic was inappropriate and tasteless. If we have to, we'll go there but we shouldn't have to ask that of parents who would rather be home with their children. People, please, enough with this hate.
Garry Meeker January 11, 2013 at 01:25 AM
Yes I thought the discussion went fairly smooth, What I did notice that Carolyn Franks supporters were from other parts of the county and not from San Juan. And yes, the planning commission did make the right call, If only the city council would also make the right call as well, but they are influence by other individules whom have an agenda and once again, commercial gains. As a board member of the Capistrano Historical Alliance Commitee, The Apatosaurus should be removed and or relocated in another part of San Juan Capistrano.
Penny Arévalo (Editor) January 11, 2013 at 01:34 AM
From my notes, I have four out-of-towners, two in favor, two against of the 16 who spoke.
wschrimp January 11, 2013 at 01:40 AM
I am out of town but cannot believe that the commision cannot see what is good for this town. Oh, don't worry Kim, you will see The support for Zoomars when it goes before the city council. Ms. Franks had asked for all her supporter not to show for the planning meeting in hopes that it would not be needed. Once again, people are saying laws were broken and they were not! This dinosaur needs no screening. If you are on Los Rios street and were not looking for it, you would not even see it. It can only truely be seen from River Street. Obviously pressure was applied once again by the few. The dinosaur statue does not change the historical nature of the district in anyway. If you all so want the district to stay to true to the 230 years of history, then the city need to rip out all of the black top, remove the street lights, get rid of that joke of a park, and go house to house, property to property in the district and get rid of everything that is does not meet your historical requirements.
Dusty W Otero March 02, 2013 at 11:52 PM
I have changed my mind on this and from my heart telling me she did not break any law,,,you don't need a statue permit ,,keep the dinosaur here for the kids and everyone to enjoy..

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