Planning Commission delays agriculture ordinance

Planning Commission delays agriculture ordinance
Planning Commissioners postpone any ruling on an agricultural ordinance, which would include limiting the number of animals, as chickens and goats, allowed in a residential area. Photo courtesy Wikimedia

ENCINITAS — Commissioners said they were in agreement with the overarching goal and need for such an ordinance, but said the current iteration raises a number of concerns, including the potential encroachment of businesses in the form of large produce stands in residential neighborhoods, the public safety concerns about the proximity of bees to residences, the potential unintended backlash the proposed rules could have on existing agricultural and rural areas.

“From a top line we are very much supportive of such an ordinance,” Commissioner Robert Flores said. “We just really need to think it through very well to make sure we don’t have the potential to disrupt the current character of our community.

“I have a lot of concerns with the way this is written,” Flores said.

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 proposal calls for the so-called “agricultural permit” to cost $250, significantly less than the $1,600 it costs for a minor use permit to conduct these activities.

The Planning Commission could have voted to recommend the council approve the ordinance, and most of the audience at the meeting – including local agricultural stakeholders – supported that action.

Among those was San Diego County Farm Bureau Executive Director Eric Larson, who told the commission that the ordinance was similar to several passed across the country.

“Trust me, it’s hundreds of jurisdictions across the country have adopted urban agricultural ordinances and are very happy their ag urban ordinances,” Larson said. “I challenge you if you have concerns to find the one city that is having a problem with it; you’re not, because this is a bit of a tidal wave taking place.”

Referring to San Diego, which adopted a similar ordinance in 2012, Larson said there haven’t been some of the issues that critics fear would occur in Encinitas.

“The city is not run over with chicken production, or goats or bees or farm stands on every corner,” Larson said. “It is just not happening. You’re not going to be the first city to adopt this ordinance and you’re not the last, you will be right in the middle of the pack, and it is progressive to do so.”

But several speakers did raise concerns. A number of nursery owners urged the commission to remove language in the ordinance that defined greenhouses in such a way that would potentially put their greenhouses out of compliance with the city rules.

Others expressed concern about the proposal to prohibit roosters in any part of the city, arguing that roosters are part of the rural landscape in such communities as Olivenhain.

One speaker also voiced concern that the proposed setback regulations for people with more than two beehives would essentially limit the practice to a handful of parcels citywide.

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