Planning Commission approves ag ordinance

ENCINITAS — After nearly two years of discussion and debate, an ordinance that would craft new urban agricultural policies in Encinitas is headed to the City Council.

The Encinitas Planning Commission voted 4-0 on March 31 to recommend the City Council approve the new set of regulations, which represents a scaled-back version of the original ordinance.

The City Council will consider approving the ordinance at a future date.

“This is not the best ordinance in the world and it is a little clumsier around the edge, but I will support it,” commissioner Anthony Brandenberg said.

The current iteration of the ordinance removes several of the items that generated much of the controversy, including provisions that some believed would restrict activity currently allowed under city rules and others that some believed would make it easier to raise chickens and goats without a special permit.

It does keep several of the other key components of the previously proposed ordinance, namely the creation of a streamlined permitting process for people who want to do ore and larger farming activities than are guaranteed by right.

The agricultural permit would cost $250, which is significantly less than the $1,600 it costs for a minor-use permit currently necessary to conduct these activities.

The ordinance also spells out the following agricultural activities that property owners could 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.

City officials have grappled with the issues surrounding urban agriculture for several years, as they have tried to craft rules that would strike a balance between encouraging agriculture while protecting the suburban values of neighbors.

Currently, the city’s rules and codes are largely silent on agriculture, which for years played a role in the delay of one group’s attempt to create the city’s first community garden and caused a months-long controversy in 2014 between a farming operation on Park Lane and the surrounding neighbors.

The council began formally crafting the ordinance in 2014, around the same time the Coral Tree Farm controversy had reached its height.

Residents at the March 31 commission meeting urged the body to approve the ordinance.

“All of us at one time or another came from agricultural roots, and I believe that our children and our grandchildren are becoming more and more disconnected from nature all of the time,” said Helen Born, who supported the ordinance. “I think it is a win-win for everyone.”

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