ENCINITAS — After six long years, the green thumb has gotten the green light in Encinitas.
With the city’s planning department signing off on the Community Garden Committee’s grading permit on July 1, the nonprofit organization that has been trying to develop the project on Quail Gardens Drive has secured all of the permits necessary to proceed.
The nonprofit will host a groundbreaking ceremony at 10:30 a.m. Saturday during which time they will install planter boxes and celebrate the achievement.
Garden proponents faced a tough uphill climb laden with red tape to bring the city its first garden, the biggest hurdle being how the proposal should be addressed under the city’s municipal code, which did not specifically mention community gardens.
The city’s planning staff believed it should be treated as a roadside stand, because the permitting process would allow it to vet the impacts the garden could have, such as traffic, odor and event noise. A minor use permit, which would be required for a roadside stand, costs $1,600 and would take four to five months to process.
Supporters of the garden, however, believed the garden should be treated as an agricultural use, the definition of which, in the city code, includes other similar uses such as 4-H operations and local farms.
In 2014, the City Council approved a path for the garden to be approved through the planning commission, which later that year voted that the community garden was allowed by right in the Encinitas Ranch Specific Plan, and waived the permit fee.
The committee then had to secure a coastal development permit, which it received in late May when the city approved an amendment to the Encinitas Union School District’s permit for its farm lab, on which the community garden is located.
“Once the planning commission weighed in, all the other permits were handled at a staff level,” Planning Director Jeff Murphy said.
The community garden’s triumph is one of several victories for urban agriculture in Encinitas over the course of the past 18 months. City officials are knee deep in the development of the city’s first agricultural ordinance that will for the first time recognize a number of farming activities as by right for homeowners. Under the proposed ordinance, residents would have the following rights without a permit:
• Have farms smaller than an acre
• Host farmers markets with 15 or fewer vendors at churches, schools and community centers,
• Set up fruit stands of 120 square feet or smaller and operate them 12 hours a week
• Host up to six “agriconnection” events a year, including farm-to-table events, farming tours and the like. Events that are not directly tied to agriculture, such as yoga and art events, would not be allowed by right.
• Own 25 chickens as long as the coop was 50 feet away from nearby homes
• Own two goats
• Own two beehives
Murphy said that planning staff is fine tuning the proposed ordinance and would likely have it ready for the planning commission to weigh in on it in August, and potentially ready for council consideration early in the fall.
Saturday’s garden groundbreaking is at 499 Quail Gardens Drive, just north of Encinitas Boulevard. The group’s website is encinitascommunitygarden.org