Appeal sparks debate over zoning of former Ecke Ranch property

Appeal sparks debate over zoning of former Ecke Ranch property
Nonprofits and Leichtag employees got approval to set up shop in barns on the Leichtag Foundation property after the City Council denied an appeal. Photo courtesy of Leichtag Foundation

ENCINITAS — With 16 public speakers, Wednesday night’s council meeting set off a debate over which kind of groups can operate on the former Ecke Ranch property, purchased last year by the Leichtag Foundation. 

Voting 3-2, council members rejected an appeal and allowed Leichtag to host its employees and a hub of nonprofits in existing barns on the property.

The property is zoned for agriculture. At issue: The nonprofits have ties to agriculture, but it isn’t their primary mission. For instance, JDC Entwine, one of the nonprofits, aids farmers in developing countries.

Previously, the Planning Commission gave the groups the OK to move onto Ecke Ranch, ruling that they fall under “accessory use” — making them “substantially the same in character,” “subordinate” and “incidental” to the zoning, according to the staff report.

However, resident Sheila Cameron appealed the Planning Commission’s decision.

Cameron noted a Leichtag letter called for using the space for tasks like budgeting and drawing up social media strategies.

Those uses don’t fit within the definition of agriculture, she said.

She added that declining the appeal would lead to an “erosion” in zoning.

Councilwoman Kristin Gaspar expressed concern the council could set a precedent for growers permitting completely unrelated uses on their property.

Councilman Mark Muir joined her in voting against the motion to deny the appeal.

Deputy Mayor Lisa Shaffer, who made the motion, said uses like budgeting don’t preclude agriculture.

“They’re neutral (terms) in the sense that they could be applied to agriculture activities,” Shaffer said.

Shaffer also said that the nonprofits are loosely connected to agriculture and represent a small footprint on the property, so the proposal meets the definition of accessory use.

Of the barns, one measures 15,100 square feet and the other is 835 square feet. The nonprofits will take up about one-quarter of the space in them.

No improvements or additions to the barns are scheduled; the nonprofits will operate rent-free in the barns.

Eric Larson, executive director of the San Diego County Farm Bureau, said the nature of farming is changing. There’s less land available, water costs are high and few young people want to become farmers. He said the future is urban farming, and the nonprofit hub could give Encinitas an edge.

“I think in those collaborations we have the opportunities to find the ways to be an urban agriculture community,” Larson said.


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