Encinitas agricultural ordinance takes shape

Encinitas agricultural ordinance takes shape
Encinitas is in the middle of creating urban farming ordinances, among them, rules on chickens. Photo by Ellen Wright

ENCINITAS—After months of debate and discussion, Encinitas unveiled a draft of its agricultural ordinance that officials said they hope strikes a balance between encouraging agricultural while protecting the suburban value of neighbors.

A city council subcommittee composed of Deputy Mayor Catherine Blakespear and Councilman Tony Kranz discussed the draft rules at a Tuesday morning meeting and accepted feedback from the 30 or so farming enthusiasts and agriculture experts and officials from the county, other cities and the Leichtag Foundation on hand.

Currently, the city’s rules and codes are largely silent on agriculture, which has stymied at least one attempt to create the city’s first community garden and caused a months-long controversy between a venerable farming operation on Park Lane and the surrounding neighbors.

“This is why we are doing it, we get it,” Blakespear said. “It makes sense to do this so we won’t repeat these problems.”

At least one neighbor involved with the Coral Tree Farm controversy attended Tuesday’s meeting. He said the proposed regulations were an encouraging step toward striking that balance.

“What was important to us neighbors was having a voice,” said Richard Schoepel, who lives on Park Lane adjacent to Coral Tree Farm. “Our concern was that the city was going to allow businesses to pop up in residential neighborhoods, and I think these rules are a good step toward not allowing that to happen.”

The ordinance spells out a number of farming activities that property owners would be able to do by right, including:

 

  • Have farms smaller than an acre
  • Host farmers markets with 15 or fewer vendors at churches, schools and community centers,
  • Set up fruit stands of 120 square feet or smaller and operate them 12 hours a week
  • Host up to six “agriconnection” events a year, including farm-to-table events, farming tours and the like. Events that are not directly tied to agriculture, such as yoga and art events, would not be allowed by right.
  • Own 25 chickens as long as the coop was 50 feet away from nearby homes
  • Own two goats
  • Own two beehives

The ordinance would also create a streamlined permitting process for people who wanted to do more and larger farming activities than are guaranteed by right. The draft calls for the so-called “agricultural permit” to cost $800, though most in the audience believed the cost was too high.

For even larger farming operations, property owners would have to go through the traditional minor-use permitting process, which costs $1,600 to initiate and takes anywhere from six months to a year to complete.

Aside from concerns about the cost of the new agricultural permit, the biggest debate at Tuesday’s meeting was over the draft ordinance’s restrictions on what type of “value-added” products – such as honey and jams – could be sold at large fruit stands.

The ordinance as written would restrict stand owners from selling off-site goods at the stand, which city staff said was to limit the impacts of importing goods from surrounding communities, such as increased vehicle traffic and noise, on the neighbors.

“The risk is that they (the fruit stands) could start growing and could have more of an impact on the community,” Encinitas Planning Director Jeff Murphy said. “Trying to strike that balance is what we struggled with.”

Many of the people on hand said the restriction would make it financially unfeasible to operate a stand. They suggested a compromise, such as limiting the amount of off-site goods to a certain percentage of what was sold at the stand.

Other residents raised questions about the city’s definition of farmer’s markets and the percentage of non-agricultural products sold at the events (some said the city’s 75-percent threshold of agricultural goods was too high) and the ordinance’s prohibition on farming on parks and open space (which city staff said they would revisit to carve out exceptions).

One man, however, also raised questions about the city’s beehive regulations, which would, for the first time, recognize and permit beekeeping in the community.

Roger O’Neil, who lives in Leucadia, said he is allergic to bees and has been hospitalized due to allergic reactions to bee stings. He questioned the city’s decision to allow bee hives.

“We’re talking about my public safety for god’s sake,” O’Neil said after the meeting.

Kranz, who is a beekeeper, said the city was trying to strike a balance between the need to accommodate bees, which play an integral role in pollination, and residents’ safety.

Hives must be 15 feet from homes and 20 feet from right of way, and a third beehive would trigger even farther setbacks.

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