Council Approves In-N-Out Restaurant on Del Obispo Street

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By Collin Breaux | Twitter: @collin_breaux

Feature photo: Collin Breaux

Amid public outcry, the San Juan Capistrano City Council decided by split vote to approve staff recommendations for discretionary and conditional use permits for an In-N-Out Burger drive-thru restaurant on the Del Obispo Street, on the condition that the company modify building design details based on council feedback.

The approval effectively means that In-N-Out can open a new restaurant on Marie Callender’s current downtown site. The current building will be demolished and a new one will be built in its place. The planning commission, cultural heritage committee, and city design review board all recommended that the project be turned down for a variety of reasons, including problems with the proposed landscaping details.

The vote at the special board meeting on Tuesday, Feb. 8 was 3-2. Council members Troy Bourne and Sergio Farias, and Pro Tem Mayor Howard Hart, voted yes. Mayor Derek Reeve and Councilman John Taylor voted no. The city decided to hold a special meeting just to discuss the project due to the high level of public comment expected.

A traffic analysis report conducted on the project prior to the vote – based on observations made at In-N-Out’s current locations in Rancho Mission Viejo and Laguna Niguel – said the project would not have any significant impact on traffic, a conclusion of some residents against the project disagreed due to their fears that the new restaurant would worsen traffic congestion on Del Obispo Street. Council members who voted in favor of the project said it would be unethical to refuse the new restaurant after going through the study and that they trusted the data.

Bourne stressed that this was a property rights issue, as he has done in the past. The proposed restaurant site, along with other properties along Del Obispo Street, is owned by the Stroscher family, which has long-established roots in the area.

“We got a lot of emails that said, ‘Guys, just save Marie Callender’s. We like it.’ There are some laughs here, but I want you to understand that these emails don’t come as a joke,” Bourne said. “There’s a little misunderstanding all over the city about what the city council controls and what they don’t. We do not control users. We can’t decide whether In-N-Out Burger can come here, which is a very successful chain of restaurants, or another chain of restaurants that might be less successful and therefore generate less traffic. »

The project was brought to council for approval, as the drive-thru component required discretionary and conditional use permits. A simple sit-down restaurant, or other business without a thoroughfare, could have opened without the skill of the council.

Taylor, who has lived in the downtown area for 31 years and represents the district, said he was “very aware” of the traffic problems residents endure on a daily basis. Taylor voted against conducting the traffic study in October 2020.

“It’s scary how fast the cars are coming out of this area of ​​the highway. They just want to go home,” Taylor said. “Based on what I’ve heard over the year and the huge amount of emails, it has nothing to do with this company. It’s a fantastic company. It’s good managed. I just see it doesn’t fit the vision I have for our downtown. It’s been a long process, and I’m sure a lot of money, but I’ll continue to be a no on this .

Many residents present at the meeting spoke out against the project due to various concerns, including those related to traffic. Some against the new Del Obispo restaurant said they weren’t necessarily against In-N-Out itself and actually liked the company and the food, but didn’t think the center location -town was a good choice.

“We are suffering from severe traffic jams trying to cross the city, especially in this place. And don’t forget the fire station is right there. How will this be impacted? said Rosa Hribar, who has lived in the city since 1966 and has previously spoken out against the project. “Number two (concern), pollution. Carbon monoxide emissions from all cars passing through the drive-thru, as well as cars stuck on the road, will affect us all.

Former council member Laura Freese said ‘harmful fumes’ from restaurant traffic could negatively impact nearby historic buildings.

“The second thing that really concerns me is the right turn lane only when you come out of this location. The Historic Downtown Master Plan has identified Ortega (highway) and Camino Capistrano as a route for people who want to experience the historic downtown,” Freese said. “Through traffic was supposed to go onto Del Obispo, but the In-N-Out map takes it from Del Obispo to Camino Capistrano and back to Ortega, so those three main streets will be strongly impacted by the 1,500 cars. I just don’t think that’s acceptable.

City manager Ben Siegel said he spoke to firefighters and the fire captain at the nearby station and they had no concerns about the new restaurant. Some council members who voted for the project said that traffic was already a problem before this project and that it is a problem they cannot solve.

“One of the things I learned from a colleague of mine is that these are self-measured businesses. Drive-thru restaurants admit a car every 35 to 40 seconds,” Hart said. “A car comes to the window, takes 35 to 40 seconds on average to pay its money, collects its fries and a “Double-Double”, then goes back on the road. It’s not like you have 28 cars waiting to get back to Del Obispo.

Cassie Ruiz, head of development for In-N-Out and an applicant for the project on behalf of the company, said the application does not require any changes or modifications to code and that the company has not ignored feedback from the advisory boards of the city.

“(Eliminating the drive-thru) is not an option here. Less than 2% of all of our In-N-Out Burger restaurants do not offer drive-thru. In 74 years, we haven’t open only a handful of stores that don’t offer that,” Ruiz said. “Especially now, in a post-COVID world, omitting our drive-thru for our restaurant is not a possibility.”

Owner Andrew Stroscher said every report from city staff recommended approval and every third-party report was “shining.”

“We need to make sure this project works properly and doesn’t affect the community inappropriately,” Stroscher said.

Conditions of approval include a request from Bourne that the In-N-Out logo design on the building be made more “classic” and the white background on the design be less bright.

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