Nursery land to sprout houses instead of trees

Nursery land to sprout houses instead of trees
With the Planning Commission’s approval, 5.4 acres of some of the last agricultural lands in Carlsbad and a small house, pictured above, will be demolished and subdivided for homes. Photo by Rachel Stine

CARLSBAD — With another plant nursery downsizing and selling land for potential house development, Carlsbad’s agricultural and nursery land is shrinking down to little more than the Flower Fields and strawberry fields.

The Planning Commission approved permits allowing 5.4 acres of a palm tree nursery and a small house along Pio Pico Drive to be demolished and subdivided into lots for 17 single family homes at its June 19 meeting.

The land has been used for agriculture for at least the past 70 years and is currently owned by Robert Miles and his family, who grow interior palm trees and other succulents on the property.

But with a decline in demand during the economic downturn, Miles’ business has had to reduce the amount of plants it produces and is selling the portion of his nursery land as a result.

“Our market has changed dramatically over the past four or five years,” he said. “Since the economy has took a turn for the worst … our business is not sustainable the way we are running it, so we’re actually downsizing.”

He said that he has a number of developers interested in buying the land, which is in a residential zone.

Miles said that he is keeping his nursery land on Buena Vista Lane to sustain his business.

Executive Director of the San Diego Farm Bureau and long-time Carlsbad resident Eric Larson explained that although farming in the county has been expanding for decades, agricultural land along the coast has been gradually bought up for houses.

“The value of the property (along the coast) is really dictated by the homes you can build on that property,” not the plants that can be grown there, he said.

Consequently, many San Diego farmers have sold their coastal land and moved their businesses inland where land is cheaper.

Furthermore, the costs of farming have increased significantly over the years, most notably the price of water doubling over the past eight years, according to Larson.

Financial strains for plant growers were only exacerbated as the demand for ornamental plants, like Miles’ palm trees, declined with the recession.

“Carlsbad was a farming community,” he said. “It was a matter of thousands of acres diminished down to what we have today.”

He said that the only agricultural land in Carlsbad today is limited to the Flower Fields, strawberry fields, and Miles’ nursery.

“You can look at a city like Encinitas or Carlsbad and those cities were once all agriculture and they’re not anymore.”

Larson said that if anything, it is surprising that Miles has been able to maintain his nursery business in Carlsbad for so long given these conditions.

Miles said that his business has been able to survive given the specialty of his product and the reputation it has built with buyers over the years.

“We specialize and we have a niche in the market that there isn’t a lot of competition in the types of plants that we grow,” he said.

He said he is optimistic that his business will sustain itself with the downsizing, but there is no way to know for sure.

“It’s been a dramatic cut for us so we’re just having to kind of wait and see what happens.”

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