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Featured Rancho Santa Fe Lead Story

Nonprofits get OK to set up in barns at former Ecke Ranch property

ENCINITAS — The Leichtag Foundation’s Food Justice Program and other nonprofits will move into two existing barns once used for flower-growing operations at the 67-acre Ranch on Saxony Road. 

While the Food Justice Program was already permitted to set up shop in the structures, the additional nonprofits were approved at last week’s Planning Commission meeting following a 3-0 vote.

“The foundation purchased the Paul Ecke Ranch last December, envisioning an opportunity to cast a philanthropic legacy,” said Jim Farely, CEO of the Leichtag Foundation.

One of the barns measures 15,100 square feet and the other is 835 square feet. Some of the 15,100-square-foot barn will be occupied by Leichtag’s Food Justice Program, which aims to combat poverty by expanding access to produce for those in need.

The Food Justice Program’s use of the barn wasn’t subject to a Planning Commission vote because its goals fit within the property’s agricultural zoning requirements, according to the staff report.

Leichtag also plans to host a hub of four to five nonprofits in the large barn. An example: JDC Entwine, an international organization that aids farmers in developing countries.

Although the nonprofits have ties to agriculture, their missions aren’t necessarily directly related to it. Thus, Leichtag went before the Planning Commission for their approval. Concurring with city staff’s recommendation, Planning Commissioner Anthony Brandenburg said that the nonprofits should be allowed on the property under what’s known as “accessory use.”

According to the city’s staff report, accessory use is “substantially the same in character” and “incidental” to the zoning.

“Not only that, it has such an overwhelming positive effect on the community,” Brandenburg said.

Resident Donna Westbrook, along with four other speakers, opposed the plan. She said the zoning of the property was written with floriculture in mind, and the nonprofits don’t fit the definition of accessory use. Westbrook added that Leichtag’s plans are vague. Hence, the Planning Commission should require the nonprofit to turn in a use permit to get more detail.

Evelyn Weidner and another public speaker came out in support. Weidner said that a cluster of nonprofits “is the very best of working together.” She added that the Leichtag Foundation is doing a lot of good for the community, which needs to be championed.

The nonprofits will occupy about 20 percent space that’s designated for office use on the property. To ease worries about Leichtag using the property for things other than agriculture, the Planning Commission capped the office space allotted for non-agricultural purposes at 20 percent.

Farely said the nonprofits will operate rent-free in the barns, noting the structures won’t be used for commercial purposes. And he said that the Leichtag Foundation wants to “intensify the agricultural use of the property.”

Several days after the meeting, Farely said the Food Justice Program should soon be up and running on the property. The additional nonprofits could move in over the next two to six months, but that’s only a loose timeline.

“It’s a nonprofit hub innovation center,” Farely said. “We expect that it will evolve very robustly over the years.”

Elsewhere on the property, though only conceptual at this point, Leichtag would like to build a food forest — a re-creation of a real forest’s ecosystem with edible food — and a 3-acre urban farm.

Planning Commissioners Michael O’Grady and Kurt Groseclose were absent from the meeting.


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