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.