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With the election in its rear-view mirror, what’s next for San Juan Capistrano and its downtown?

A nearly 6-acre, agrarian-themed commercial project, the River Street Marketplace, enters the approval process in San Juan Capistrano just as a couple of fresh faces join the City Council.

The new council members have made favorable public comments about the project some residents fear could harm, with its size, the feel of the city’s historic downtown Los Rios District.

“So far, it appears to be a good project for the community,” said Councilman John Taylor, who was recently sworn in along with Troy Bourne.

But Taylor said he’ll be watching closely the potential for downtown traffic impacts as the council considers the project proposed by developer Dan Almquist.

The incoming council will likely decide the fate of the River Street Marketplace along with making decisions on several major ongoing issues, from outsourcing the city’s water utility to reversing the city’s slide toward a financial deficit.

“They are going to reach decision points here,” Bourne said.

With San Juan Capistrano’s shift this year to district elections pitting three City Council members against each other for one seat, the November elections spelled change for city leadership.

Along with newcomer Bourne, a businessman, and Taylor, who served on the council from 2010 to 2014, Derek Reeve scored the District 3 seat, defeating councilwomen Kerry Ferguson and Pam Patterson and three others. The three men joined Mayor Brian Maryott and Councilman Sergio Farias on the dais this month.

River Street

Bourne said he is hopeful Almquist can build the River Street Marketplace in a way that doesn’t disrupt the looks of the neighboring historic district.

“(People) want to make sure when you walk from the Los Rios District, it feels like the continuation of the district, not a sharp line in the sand,” he said. “That’s what the applicant is trying to produce.”

The environmental impact report on the development – which would replace the Ito Nursery at 31825 Los Rios St., with restaurants and retail shops – is expected to be released to the public in January.

The city has been analyzing Almquist’s visions for the nursery site since 2016.

A bill proposed in the state Senate could relax local zoning rules and lead to higher-density housing near Amtrak and other train stations, Councilman Farias said. The River Street complex would be next to the city’s station.

“The sooner we can put something on there that will have the least impact to the city, I think that will be a benefit to the city,” he said, although he stressed he needs to look at the environmental reviews of the project’s impacts. “Something is going to go in there, and it’s a matter of what.”

Other city priorities

The city is seeing revenue growth, but costs are keeping pace if not overrunning what San Juan Capistrano has coming in – including year-to-year increases in its contract with the Orange County Sheriff’s Department.

Could staffing cuts reduce or avoid budget deficits? Perhaps, but that is not very realistic, Taylor said. “We’re at the limit as to how low we can go.”

More tax revenue from new hotels, such as the Inn at the Mission that is looking to finish construction by the end of 2019, and business expansions, such as the Ganahl Lumber development should help, the councilmen said.

“But you can’t count your chicks before they hatch,” Farias said. “We have to make fiscally sound decisions in the near term and hope those projects continue.”

The city is also exploring outsourcing its water and wastewater operations to reduce costs, which the council may decide on as soon as next year.

Bourne said he needs to study the issue further. But intuitively, having a small city such as San Juan Capistrano running its own wastewater system doesn’t make as much sense, he said.

Next year will also likely include more debates on clarifying the planning rules and guidelines on the city’s downtown. There also may be further discussions on how the city can help with residents’ efforts to raise $2 million to build a state-of-the-art skateboard park for the city’s youth.

Source: Orange County Register

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