The Paul Ecke Ranch at 441 Saxony Road is being sold to the Carlsbad-based nonprofit Leichtag Foundation. Photo by Tony Cagala

Ecke Ranch property sold to Carlsbad-based nonprofit

ENCINITAS — The Carlsbad-based nonprofit Leichtag Foundation signed an option agreement April 6 to acquire the 67-acre Paul Ecke Ranch facility at 441 Saxony Road. 

President and CEO of the Leichtag Foundation James Farley said that the foundation had been interested in that neighborhood for quite a while.

Farley said that he had approached members of the ranch, including owner Paul Ecke III to explore the possibilities in acquiring the land, with the decision resulting from direct conversations between Farley and primarily Ecke.

“It’s a big idea. It’s a large piece of land. When you consider the footprint and the adjacencies to the public gardens, it is my belief this is an iconic opportunity,” Farley said.

The agreement reached does contemplate the idea that the foundation may be able to use the Paul Ecke Ranch name in the new project.

“Paul Ecke Ranch has commercial value,” Farley said. “They’re very sensitive about how that name gets licensed and used, so they’re very much in the driver’s seat when it comes to use of the name,” he said. “The larger question might be the extent to which we foresee the project honoring the legacy that not only the Ecke family has in this community, but the Paul Ecke Ranch as a corporate citizen, and I think in both instances, we are very interested in making sure that that legacy is honored in a powerful way,” he added.

With the transformation process still in the very early stages, the foundation is just beginning to envision some of the ideas and uses for the land.

“We have some ideas…that we want to pursue in a shorter term scenario…but ultimately, we’re going to have to develop a plan that demonstrates continuing public use,” Farley said. “I’m sure development of this parcel is going to take many, many years.”

Some of the early ideas considered for use on the property include urban farming, service learning and community engagement.

“It’s iconic space; it’s potentially very powerful space in the community,” Farley said.

The Paul Ecke Ranch has become a source for public scrutiny after Ecke had initially tried to rezone 38-acres in 2005 from agricultural use to residential use. The rezoning became known as Proposition A and was subsequently rejected by voters fearful the land would fall to commercial developers.

Ecke submitted a proposal in 2011 that would split 36-acres of the ranch into three smaller parcels, allowing for unused space to be leased out and easier for the ranch to obtain bank loans.

According to a statement issued by The Paul Ecke Ranch, Ecke will hold a three-year lease to transition to an existing facility or to a new property, while continuing to use the current location for its poinsettia research and development.

The Leichtag Foundation is an independent 501 (c)(3) nonprofit organization formed in 1991.