Zoomars Dinosaur Clears First Hurdle

The Cultural Heritage Commission gives the controversial statue a thumbs up. Next up, the Planning Commission.

Although the majority of residents who came to City Hall Tuesday to discuss the Zoomars dinosaur would rather see it go the way of the, well, dinosaurs, the Cultural Heritage Commission voted to support the Apatosaurus.

Only three members of the commission attended, and they voted 2-1 to recommend to yet another panel, the San Juan Capistrano Planning Commission, that it approve Zoomars’ plans for an educational area, which include:

  • The 13-foot dinosaur statue, also known as Juan
  • Shade structures
  • Fossil dig areas
  • Native American huts, known as kiichas           

Zoomars is situated in the heart of the Los Rios Historic District, known as the oldest residential neighborhood in California.

The Planning Commission has already heard the issue once, when asked to approve Juan after the fact. He did not curry favor. Now the statue is part of a bigger proposal.

“That was unexpected. We have a chance,” said petting zoo owner Carolyn Franks, wiping tears of joy. “Minds are opening. That’s a good thing.”

Not all. All three emails sent to the Cultural Heritage Commission urged a no-vote. Three of four residents who spoke did, too.

“If the dinosaur is allowed, it will set a precedent. And soon the area will turn into an amusement park, like Knott’s Berry Farm,” said Ilse Byrnes, who has opposed Juan since his arrival in late spring.

Sheree Ito of neighboring business Ito Nursey said the Apatosaurus has brought too many visitors to the area.

“The plans for Zoomars that has gone beyond an intensity designed for the district,” Ito said. “That property is so over-developed for this at this point.”

But Commission Chairwoman Rhonda deHaan said bringing more people to San Juan Capistrano and getting them to experience history is only a good thing.

“Kids go there. It’s fun. They learn when it’s fun. It’s a great way to get people to Los Rios who would never go and never learn about it,” she said. “It’s important to keep our history. I would think this would be an awesome chance to share it.”

Commissioner Nathan Banda agreed.

“What a great opportunity for the kids who live here who can’t afford to go to the Discovery Center in Santa Ana or the transportation,” he said.

deHaan added that she agreed that Juan fits the definition of a passive recreational use, which is allowed in the historic commercial zoning.

"It’s a statue. it’s not really doing anything. It’s, to me, as passive as it gets," she said.

Commissioner Jan Siegel was the one official dissent. She said she didn’t appreciate how the “in the middle of the night without any permits or approval, the dinosaur was moved in to its current position.” She called the new plans “an attempt to throw mud at a wall and see what sticks.”

The Planning Commission is expected to review the proposal in December.

Lauren C November 30, 2012 at 07:43 PM
While you may have a differing opinion, in actuality, publicity to historic districts is a good thing! More people coming to an area means that more money will be put into our small businesses and supporting our economy. Though it would be great to say that we get a constant influx of people coming into San Juan for its beautiful mission, I can understand how after several visits the initial excitement for it could wane. While I myself am a member of the mission, I am still drawn to Zoomars for its fun and child-friendly vibe (a feeling that is much less sensed in the mission where children can quickly become antsy and bored). Even those who are initially brought to San Juan to visit Juan the dinosaur will not necessarily avoid the mission. Since the two venues, Mission San Juan Capistrano and Zoomars, are so dissimilar, I do not honestly believe them to be mutually exclusive, forcing people to choose one over the other as I’m sure many people would opt to visit each for their respective benefits and interests in due time.
Lauren C November 30, 2012 at 07:44 PM
In addition, I find it amusing that you seem to reject Juan on the basis that it is ‘ugly’ and not historic. Perhaps one of the reasons why Juan is unsightly to you is because Carolyn has not had the opportunity to repair him properly. It is possible that you lack the foresight to see how beautiful and wonderfully educational to children Juan has the potential to be. As for your claims that Juan is not historic enough to fit your liking, I must admit I am a bit confused since as far as I’m aware, children learn about dinosaurs in their history courses beginning in elementary school or earlier. The dinosaur is not only not visible to anyone outside of River Street, it is also not harming a soul. Interactive programs such as the miniature archeology exhibit Carolyn hopes to establish are not only extremely educational, they are fun and entertaining for children; inspiring them to thrive in school and society, inciting excitement for education, and giving parents a chance to relax for a moment as they watch their young ones take part in an activity that very well may shape their future (or at the least bit, occupy a few minutes of their time).
Penny Arévalo November 30, 2012 at 07:45 PM
A poll is a great idea! We can easily do one at Patch and let it run for a few weeks before the Planning Commission meeting, Dec. 18. Thanks!
Lauren C November 30, 2012 at 08:20 PM
In any event, I apologize for the length and the number of these postings but felt as though someone should set Kim straight. As I had mentioned before, while the minority may be more vocal, it is important to listen to what the majority says, as it is the goal of all commissions and their chairs to keep the entire community’s best interests at heart.
rachel o February 02, 2013 at 04:18 AM
Mr. Nieblas who started all of this ruckas, maybe he should spend more time getting his own family in order instead of picking on a statue of a dinosaur. As my mom used to tell me, what goes around, comes around. It looks like it just came around for Mr. Nieblas: http://sanjuancapistrano.patch.com/articles/san-juan-man-charged-with-elder-abuse


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