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Barth seeks to put long-delayed community garden on fast track

ENCINITAS — The Encinitas City Council will consider a proposal by Teresa Barth that would put a long-delayed community garden on the fast track.

Barth’s proposal deals with a proposed garden on a plot of land owned by the Encinitas Union School District, which received unanimous support from the council in 2009, but has since stalled due to numerous hurdles in the city’s permitting process.

Barth is asking the council to consider placing on a future agenda an item that would both amend the city’s policies to get the garden through the process and define community gardens as an allowable use in the city code.

She points to the cities of Carlsbad and San Diego, where officials have eliminated red tape to allow more community gardens. San Diego in 2011 voted to allow gardens on vacant residential and commercial properties.

“I felt if we brought it to council and had a discussion with staff and the community garden group, we could figure out what stumbling blocks there have been in the process,” Barth said. “I’m not looking to blame anyone, I am looking to find solutions.

“Hopefully we can get a clear understanding of what needs to be done to help the organization get its community garden up and running,” Barth said.

There has been a national groundswell of interest in urban farming in the wake of the recent recession and environmentally conscious initiatives, as farming is seen as a “green” activity.

Community farms allow residents to rent small plots of land and either consume or sell their produce.

Gordon Smith is president of the Community Garden Committee, the nonprofit proposing the garden project. He said city staff and the group have grappled with what type of permits the project needs, largely because the city has never dealt with such a proposal.

“There is no precedent for what we are trying to do in Encinitas,” Smith said. “Other cities have made it so that community gardens don’t have to go through the process. Staff here is asking for permits from the Coastal Commission, grading permits, all of these things to put the community garden together for a nonprofit.

“We have come to a wall with the planning department, so we’re trying to get the community garden in added to the definition of agricultural use, so that we don’t have to get all of these permits.”

Smith, like Barth, said he understands that staff is only working with the set of standards and definitions it has in place, so amending those would be needed to streamline the process.

Some residents have expressed concern over the proposal. Local activist Al Rodbell, in an email to council, said a blanket approval such as in San Diego could overstep the authority of homeowners associations and private property owners.

The city has zoning codes, Rodbell said, which are in place for a purpose.

“Encinitas has a wide mix of zoning, and what is right for Rural Olivenhain is not appropriate for New Encinitas,” Rodbell wrote. “The encouragement of local gardens should be in the context of existing laws and zoning, rather than seeming to ignore these carefully crafted restrictions that allow residents to live in close proximity. Residential zoning precludes commercial endeavors such as selling produce, and should not be overruled in this burst of enthusiasm.”

The timing of Barth’s proposal also comes at a time when a local commercial farm is locked in a battle with the city over whether it can continue its operations without seeking a permit. The council received several emails from supporters of the Coral Tree Farm, a family-owned grower of heirloom vegetables and tropical fruits off of Requeza Avenue.

The city, after receiving several complaints about the operation, is requiring the farm to obtain a minor use permit.

Barth said her proposal is unrelated to the Coral Tree issue.

“Completely unrelated,” Barth said. “I am discussing community gardens. Coral Tree Farms is a commercial farm operation. They are two different things.”