City looks at agri-tourism for Morro Hills

OCEANSIDE — City Council voted to omit the geotechnical study of South Morro Hills from the Wastewater Master Plan, and directed staff to look into hiring a consultant to ensure economic viability for the farmland on Feb. 18.

Councilwoman Esther Sanchez requested the geotechnical study be shelved because it had flaws, and pointed to development and road widening in the agricultural area.

Sanchez also suggested the city help with agri-tourism efforts.

“This study was really envisioning urbanization of ag land,” Sanchez said.

Mayor Jim Wood and Sanchez have long objected to road widening in Morro Hills, which calls for the eminent domain of property.

Area farming includes a winery, a flower farm and avocado growers.

The geotechnical study was done to assist farm owners in considering other land use options that a sewer system would allow in an area now serviced by septic tanks.

The study concluded 900 to 1,200 housing units could be supported by a sewer system within current zoning, which restricts housing development to two-and-a-half-acre lots.

A handful of Morro Hills farmers, including Beach House Winery owner Kim Murray, were at the council meeting to voice their concerns about methodology and flaws in the study that could misguide future area development.

Interim Water Utilities Director Jason Dafforn said the study yielded a limited and fair representation of the area.

He said questions would be addressed and the study would be corrected even if it ended up on the shelf.

Following the meeting, Councilman Jerry Kern said the study would be useful for future agri-tourism, which would need a sewer system and roads to thrive.

Kern added water rates are becoming an issue for farmers, and upcoming generations of family farmers are not interested in continuing the business.

He said switching water-thirsty avocado groves to wineries and agri-tourism might be a good option for some farmers.

Council previously approved conducting the study in 3-2 vote in which Kern, Councilman Jack Feller and former Councilman Gary Felien voted yes.

On Feb. 18 a 3-2 vote supported by Wood, Sanchez and Councilman Chuck Lowery approved omitting the study and pursuing an economic consultant.

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