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Council reaffirms farm’s right to sell produce

A small farm that’s galvanized urban agriculture supporters can keep selling produce to other businesses and the community without special permitting, the Encinitas City Council unanimously voted Sept. 24.

Rejecting an appeal that drew more than 40 public speakers, the council decided Coral Tree Farm and Nursery has a grandfathered right to commercially farm. However, events such as educational tours on the property will need a permit to continue, and others such as yoga meet-ups will need to stop — at least for now, council’s motion stated.

“We’re trying to figure out what the law says and how we apply it,” Councilwoman Lisa Shaffer said before the vote.

Many at the meeting said they visit Coral Tree to learn about organic farming and escape urbanization. Some detractors countered the farm is causing problems for neighbors.

At the heart of the issue: Farms that took root before the city’s incorporation in 1986 can sell produce without a minor-use permit as long as their land doesn’t lie fallow for more than 180 days, according to city rules.

Ultimately, residents’ accounts, aerial maps and water records persuaded the council that the property has been continuously farmed since the 1950s, and thus a special permit isn’t needed.

Neighbors on the Park Lane cul-de-sac who filed the appeal cited their own evidence regarding the 180-day law, including an environmental impact study from 1992 that stated no agriculture was grown on the property during this period.

Additionally, they made the case the permit should be required for Coral Tree to sell produce, as they believe the farm is responsible for increased traffic in recent years.

A $1,600 minor-use permit allows the city to vet a project and restrict any adverse impacts. Such a permit can take months to complete, and approval isn’t guaranteed.

Homeowner Nancy Whitfield complained that the farm’s events have created a safety hazard.

“When there are events, many cars drive up the street looking for parking,” Whitfield said. “Often, they pull into our driveways where children are present.”

Neighbors upset over traffic and a lack of parking led the city to investigate the farm’s legal status nine months ago.

Catherine Blakespear, a council candidate representing Coral Tree pro bono, said the farm’s events are relatively infrequent and akin to a homeowner hosting a dinner party.

Further, she said it’s unfair a farm is receiving so much scrutiny, when home daycares with up to 12 children are allowed in residential areas without a permit. Those businesses can result in up to 24 car trips a day, she said, adding Coral Tree likely doesn’t have that kind of impact.

Along with the community at-large, some neighbors voiced support for the farm.

“It’s been absolutely a joy and a pleasure — there’s been no impact as far as we can tell that’s been negative,” said David Kennedy, adding that his whole family enjoys the farm.

The council’s motion also stated Coral Tree can sell boxes of produce to residents as part of a community agriculture program, reversing an earlier city Planning Department decision. Additionally, businesses can buy produce from the property.

Also, the council decided a minor-use permit is necessary for educational tours and community gardening, since those activities are “accessory uses” related to agriculture, but didn’t take place on the property in the past.

But the council said yoga events, dinners and art classes aren’t OK, even with a permit, because those aren’t linked to agriculture under the current rules.

However, the city is in the midst of drafting an urban agriculture ordinance that could, among other things, allow some of those events on farms. Additionally, if Coral Tree pursues a permit for accessory uses that are eventually approved by right under the ordinance, it would be reimbursed the $1,600 cost.

The ordinance will likely go before the council for a final vote late next year.

Councilwoman Teresa Barth said the city has to apply today’s rules, but it’s working on friendlier agriculture rules.

“I think that we’ve come to a compromise at the moment, and we’re moving in the direction of really embracing urban agriculture,” Barth said.


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