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Encinitas moves forward with urban agriculture ordinance

Rules that would ease livestock buffers and allow residents to sell produce without special permitting took a step forward this week.

An Encinitas City Council subcommittee that’s been working on an urban agriculture ordinance presented recommendations on Oct. 15 for the full council to consider. Agreeing with the overall subcommittee direction, the council unanimously directed city staff to bring back an ordinance that would reduce regulations for residential farm stands and those looking to raise chickens, goats and bees.

Before the draft ordinance returns to the council for a final vote, a public workshop will be held and it will go before the Planning Commission.

Deputy Mayor Tony Kranz, who served on the subcommittee with Councilwoman Lisa Shaffer, said the potential reforms intend to honor the city’s agricultural history.

“Please, let’s not forget our roots,” Kranz said, adding the Encinitas General Plan promotes agriculture-friendly policies in light of increased urbanization.

The subcommittee report proposes allowing roadside farm stand sales in residential areas for up to 12 daylight hours a week. Stands larger than 200 square feet, however, would need a permit.

Presently, residents can plant crops, but selling vegetables and fruits from home typically requires a $1,600 minor-use permit.

However, Councilman Mark Muir said waiving permitting and allowing “by right” stands could potentially spur more neighborhood conflicts. The permit process, Muir said, lets city staff identify and address potential issues.

But Kranz said if the ordinance passes, the urban farmers would likely be spread throughout the city, limiting the impacts in a given neighborhood. He added for the ordinance to succeed it’s important that residents resolve issues in a “neighborly” fashion.

Resident Christian Marcotte echoed Kranz, saying, “I doubt you’ll see an increase in noise or traffic.”

Councilmembers agreed the ordinance should include a check-in two years after passage. They said this would let the council review the ordinance and see what parts should be tweaked, if any.

Currently, city rules say beehives must be at least 600 feet from surrounding homes.

But the subcommittee has suggested reducing the buffer for homeowners with up to two beehives to 15 feet. The law would remain 600 feet for those who have three or more, though Kranz expressed interest in decreasing that number if a beekeeper gets permission from neighbors.

Muir voiced concern with the 15-foot buffer. He said that as a former firefighter he witnessed how bee stings can send allergic people into anaphylactic shock.

Shaffer noted that she’s allergic to bees and has ended up in the hospital because of a sting. But she added that isn’t reason to stop the city from adopting “reasonable rules” for beekeepers.

“We will develop a proposed ordinance and it will be thoroughly vetted,” Shaffer said.

Similarly, the subcommittee report calls for relaxing goat and chicken setbacks, yet how much depends on the number of those animals.

Additionally, the report advocates for allowing growers to host up to six events a year, with a cap of 25 people, without having to obtain a permit. The report reasoned the traffic impacts would be minimal — akin to a homeowner hosting a bi-monthly dinner.

Those events might include farm dinners and educational tours, the council agreed. But Shaffer and Councilwoman Teresa Barth said that hosting arts and cultural events should probably require an administrative permit, because they didn’t see a direct link to agriculture.

“What I really do want to see is the real agricultural-connected activities,” Barth said.

Mayor Kristin Gaspar suggested taking the ordinance to each of Encinitas’ five communities for additional feedback, which ultimately didn’t win council support. Barth called that “paralysis by analysis,” stating one workshop, as well as the subcommittee and council hearing process would provide ample opportunity to weigh in.

Council members agreed to table two proposals in the agenda item until a later date. One would encourage farming in local homeowners associations. The other would promote organic growing practices among residents.

As a testament to community interest in urban agriculture, each of the three subcommittee meetings drew about 40 people despite taking place during work hours, it was noted.

The council began looking into urban agriculture last spring after hearing from residents who said the city’s decades-old laws are prohibitive.

However, resident Nancy Whitfield said by right farming would “open a Pandora’s box of consequences.”

Planning Director Jeff Murphy said the subcommittee’s suggestions pulled from various cities that have recently adopted an urban agriculture ordinance. The city of San Diego’s ordinance has been particularly influential, he added.

The council also directed Murphy to come back with various approaches for streamlining permitting.


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