By Laura Freese
An open letter in response to Ivy Sims Damon:
Thank you for writing your letter in the February 9th issue of The Capistrano Dispatch. Please allow me to clear up some misinformation about the Downtown Master Plan.
In the past, San Juan Capistrano has lost some beautiful historic buildings due to a lack of a plan. Because the I-5/Ortega interchange construction will begin later this year, it became imperative that a plan be put into place to protect the character of our city, to keep destructive influences at bay and to use the I-5 interchange construction as a catalyst to enhance the charm of our city.
The Downtown Master Plan is a protective plan. It will protect what we have while mandating incoming new buildings fit the historical look and feel of the city. The Downtown Plan does not pull down buildings. The plan does not use eminent domain. It does suggest best uses of locations for future buildings and the best way to make the downtown more pedestrian friendly.
Protectively, the plan suggests that the city recapture appropriate assets of the past that have gone away but may be brought back. The plan suggests we transform Camino Capistrano back into the role/look of our main street. It was integrated into Highway 101 by the state in the 1930s, which is when it lost a lot of its simple “Main Street” appeal. The Master Plan suggests ways to restore the look and livability of Camino Capistrano as our main street. Also, the hotel that you refer to in your letter, the Hotel Capistrano, was sadly torn down at Camino Capistrano and Verdugo many years ago. The plan states that Verdugo and Camino Capistrano was the perfect spot for a small hotel and if the chance ever comes again, that a boutique hotel be rebuilt in that location. It is a suggestion only, but a good one.
The master plan is a guide. It refines the City’s General Plan’s intent. It addresses downtown floor ratio standards that are too low and parking ratios which are too high. It hones in on the need of the city to give pedestrians a reason to walk around the city; to provide the walkers a “string of pearls” of interesting things to do and see. It addresses the need for Verdugo Street and El Camino to come to life.
The goals stated in the plan include words like “preserve and enhance,” “pedestrian friendly,” and “honor the historic buildings.” The council will judge if those goals were met. We will evaluate the good parts and throw out the bad. Input from residents has been extremely important. We had multiple meetings with downtown property owners; four widely advertised public workshops and currently, Councilman John Taylor and I have met with three more different groups to listen to their concerned input. Many of their concerns are the same as ours.
There are a lot of rumors about the plan and they are just that: rumors. Please know that Councilman Taylor or I will meet with anyone who has concerns. Call Cathy Salcedo at 949.449.6317 if you would like to meet. It is better to understand the plan and provide valuable comments than to allow misinformation to gather fuel and fly wildly about.
Councilwoman Laura Freese, a past director of the Chamber of Commerce, was elected in 2008.
By Laura Freese