ENCINITAS — A proposal to subdivide roughly 36 of the 68 acres at the Paul Ecke Ranch, a large-scale flower farm, was hotly contested by some residents during a special hearing at City Hall Feb. 28. Paul Ecke III, who was not in attendance, has previously stated that the subdivision would make it easier for the ranch to acquire bank loans and lease property to agricultural companies that could take advantage of unused greenhouses.Even though the proposal does not call for development, concerned residents at the hearing voiced concerns that it could open the door for residential and commercial construction.“They failed before and now they’ll try anything to get around the rules,” George Hejduk said.Critics of the proposal are skeptical because the Ecke Ranch tried to rezone 38 of its acres from agricultural to residential in order to build housing in 2005, which was known as Proposition A. Voters rejected the proposition; the acres are still zoned as agricultural, meaning that only one home can be built per 10 acres.
The ranch would retain its agricultural status under the proposal. Changing the zoning to allow for residential or commercial construction would require Planning Commission or City Council approval. Still, some residents worry that the proposal may open loopholes that would allow developers to build.
But Ecke Ranch attorney Monica Browning repeatedly affirmed that the ranch has no ulterior motives as far as zoning.
“I understand why Paul needs to divide one big lot into three smaller lots,” Browning said. “As far as I’m concerned, that’s all we’re here to talk about today.”
She also said that subdivision makes business sense, particularly in terms of easing liability issues.
The ranch is currently made up of three parcels. The proposal would split a roughly 36-acre parcel into three parcels, making for five total parcels.
Patrick Murphy, the city’s planning and building director, will factor in public testimony and issue a decision on the proposal in about a week. Regardless of Murphy’s decision, opponents can appeal and the proposal would be sent to City Council. A third possibility: Murphy could choose to not make a decision and send the issue to the Planning Commission, according to City Planner Tom Curriden, who presided over the hearing with Associate Planner J. Alfred Dichoso.
Critics questioned why the proposal wasn’t subject to Planning Commission or City Council approval from the beginning.
“In light of the gravity of this project, it’s preposterous that this hearing and one person would be the decision maker,” a Leucadia resident said.
The proposal doesn’t need the green light from City Council or the Planning commission because it involves fewer than five lots. The proposal only includes three lots — 12.8 acres, 12.1 acres and 10.8 acres.
Due to the unexpected crowd, the hearing was moved to a larger room. Curriden said that administrative hearings are rarely controversial.