Planning Commission delays vote on urban agriculture ordinance

The Encinitas Planning Commission on Aug. 20 said a proposed urban agriculture ordinance that would relax livestock buffers and permits leaves too many questions unanswered.

After hearing more than an hour of public testimony from those for and against easing city agriculture rules, the planning commission voted unanimously to continue the hearing at a later date in order to get more information from city staff.

The Planning Commission wanted to know more about how the ordinance will be enforced, the impact on commercial growers and whether other cities with similar ordinances have seen a big increase in residential produce stands.

“What if I’m excited, and my neighbor is excited, and all of a sudden we have 10 households doing this on the same street?” Commissioner Ruben Flores said.

Opponents of the proposed ordinance said it would increase traffic on residential streets, as well as create noise and sanitation problems. Proponents argued that the rules would keep Encinitas’ agricultural heritage alive by encouraging a new crop of young farmers.

“I’m here to really represent that younger generation interested in agricultural entrepreneurship,” resident Emily Staalberg said.

Staalberg said she’s in talks to start a two-acre farm in Encinitas, and the ordinance would help with permitting. Commercial agriculture requires a $1,600 minor-use permit, while the ordinance proposes a streamlined $250 agriculture permit.

“My husband and I have seen direct correlations between our real on-the-ground efforts to get this farm up and running, and what the new ordinance could do for us,” Staalberg said.

The ordinance would also let homeowners sell fruits, vegetables and “value added” products like jam from residential farm stands for up to 12 daylight hours a week without permitting. That is, so long as the products were produced onsite and the stand is no more than 120 square feet in size.

Public speaker Mike Andreen said neighborhood farm stands could bring more traffic to streets and potentially bring down property values, and thus he advocated for further environmental review of the ordinance.

Eric Larson, executive director of the San Diego County Farm Bureau, said residential farm stands wouldn’t overrun neighborhoods. He added that he couldn’t remember even one such stand when Encinitas was a farming community years ago.

“To think now that people in their backyard are going to create a giant farm stand and man this thing 12 hours a week — I think that’s a little bit of daydreaming,” Larson said.

Planning commissioner Greg Drakos raised concerns that a commercial farmer from outside the city could set up a farm stand on a residential lot.

“People say, ‘It’s not going to happen, it’s not going to happen,’ up until it happens,” Drakos said.

The ordinance would cut the buffer in all residential zones for raising goats, chickens or bees. For instance, up to two beehives would be allowed if they’re at least 20 feet from property lines. For three or more hives, the distance jumps to 600 feet and a permit would be required.

Resident James McDonald said more backyard beekeeping would lead to additional domestic bees, reducing the number of Africanized bees, also known as killer bees.

“If there are no domestic bees, the killer bees come in and breed exponentially,” McDonald said.

Marge Cole said a neighbor once had livestock and didn’t take care of the animals, resulting in overwhelming odors and rats. She stated it took the code enforcement department a while to address the matter, adding that the ordinance would increase the department’s burden.

The Planning Commission will soon resume the hearing, probably in October, said city Planning Director Jeff Murphy after the meeting. The commission’s vote on the matter will be forwarded to the Encinitas City Council, which will have the final say on whether to pass the ordinance.

Three commercial growers said the ordinance language could have the unintended consequence of requiring city approval for new greenhouses or repairing them, since the ordinance defines greenhouses as permanent structures. The Planning Commission recommended changing that language so growers wouldn’t be affected.

The commission’s vote to continue the hearing was 4-0. Commissioner Anthony Brandenburg was absent from the meeting.

An Encinitas City Council subcommittee began crafting the ordinance last summer.

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