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San Juan Enacts 45-Day Project Ban to Revise City Plan

TIMES STAFF WRITER

Hoping to preserve their city’s historic charm amid a South County building boom, San Juan Capistrano officials Tuesday declared a 45-day moratorium on new large-scale projects.

The ban, passed unanimously by the City Council after a two-hour public hearing, allows exceptions only for small residential developments or construction that would ease school overcrowding or provide senior housing. It prohibits major housing subdivisions and retail centers until planners can bring the city’s 1974 General Plan up to date.

By doing so, officials said, they can set a course for wise use of the city’s remaining undeveloped land.

“I look at this as something that’s good for the citizens and good for the developers,” Councilman Wyatt T. Hart said. “What we’re talking about right now is 45 days.”

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State law allows cities to declare such a ban, and officials may request extensions for as long as two years. Projects that already have city approval may proceed, Planning Director Thomas Tomlinson said.

Representatives of the building industry, who had lobbied against the measure, expressed disappointment after the vote.

“We’re concerned, and we’ll be back,” said Christine Diemer, chief executive of the Orange County Building Industry Assn. “If it’s going to be 45 days, then I guess that’s the path of least resistance, but we wouldn’t want to see a moratorium extended.”

With home construction now at a torrid pace of about 10,000 units a year in Orange County, developers would like to increase San Juan Capistrano’s limit of 400 new houses a year.

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Scott Allen, president of the building trade group, argued the public benefits of new-home construction: “It’s very important to keep all housing projects moving forward. We have a housing shortage in this county.”

But of the nearly 200 people who packed council chambers for the 7 p.m. session, most said they want to preserve the character of the historic town, where traffic noise now threatens the serenity inside the hand-troweled stucco walls of the city’s famous old mission.

“This may be our last chance to save the San Juan that is loved by residents and by tourists,” said Terry Barringer, who is among residents opposed to a plan for a new subdivision of 350 houses in the southwest area.

Mitchell Wainwright, who lives near that area, also spoke against the housing project: “If this is allowed to continue, the quality of life for many of us will change significantly for the worse.”

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Tuesday’s action was the third step by City Council members this year to regulate growth. In January, they declared a moratorium on new fast-food restaurants after residents complained about three eateries under construction along a 500-foot stretch of Del Obispo Street, joining three others already open for business there.

Earlier this month, the City Council called a halt to development in the city’s downtown and tourist districts while officials consider how check-cashing stores, bingo parlors, liquor stores, pawnshops and mortuaries fit into the business mix.

Other California cities have taken similar steps to regulate commercial growth, particularly of fast-food restaurants. Last year, Sierra Madre banned drive-through eateries. Temporary bans have been used in Newport Beach, South Pasadena and Burbank to control the light, noise and traffic effects of fast-food eateries.


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