Supervisors approve ag promotion program

The San Diego County Board of Supervisors approved a new agriculture promotion program.

The supervisors’ 5-0 vote March 15 adopted amendments to the county’s Zoning Ordinance which are part of the agriculture promotion program, certified the Environmental Impact Report while adopting a statement of overriding considerations, and amended the Mobility Element of the county’s general plan.

“It took 2 1/2 years to get here and I think it’s really important,” said Supervisor Dianne Jacob.

The agriculture promotion program allows commercial accessory uses on properties where agriculture is the primary use. Those uses include agritourism, agricultural homestays, agricultural stores, microbreweries or microdistilleries, fishermen’s markets, general packing and processing, on-site agricultural and horticultural sales, and farm employee housing.

In June 2013, the Board of Supervisors directed the county’s Chief Administrative Officer to identify ways to streamline regulations and provide more opportunity for agricultural venues such as microbreweries and cheesemaking.

In March 2014, the county’s Planning Commission recommended the development of a program on a 4-0 vote with two members absent and one vacancy, although the specific ordinance had not yet been developed.

In August 2014, the Board of Supervisors directed the chief administrative officer to develop an agricultural promotion program and to return to the board in 30 months with a developed ordinance.

The plan also included a revision of the county’s beekeeping ordinance; in October 2013, the supervisors directed county staff to work with stakeholders on changes to protect and promote beekeeping operations in the unincorporated county. That revised ordinance was approved in October 2015.

The county’s tiered winery ordinance adopted in 2010 underwent subsequent review as part of the process. Some modifications were approved by the Board of Supervisors in April 2016, although the issue of adding land with S92 General Rural zoning to the existing A70 and A72 agricultural zones covered by the tiered ordinance was deferred.

The four-tiered winery ordinance bases the type of permit on production volume, and in September 2013 the supervisors approved a tiered equine ordinance basing the approval process on the number of horses and the available acreage.

The tiered beekeeping ordinance bases setback distances on the number of hives. The agricultural promotion program also utilizes a tiered ordinance to balance economic gain with protection of nearby residents.

“Our recent successes have been a big boon to the region,” Jacob said. “Ag tourism and the farm-to-fork movement are really growing in the County of San Diego.”

The Environmental Impact Report assumed (for traffic and other impact purposes) a “worst-case scenario” in which activities occurred on all eligible properties. That created significant and unmitigable impacts, although the finding of overriding considerations allowed for certification of the EIR.

A groundwater investigation is needed if the annual water use is at least 20 acre-feet, or 20,000 gallons per day. “The ordinance would basically exempt them from that if they’re under a certain water usage,” Jacob said.

The anticipated usage for 8,000 barrels of beer per year, which is the limit for a large microbrewery permitted under the new ordinance, is 5.7 to 7.2 acre-feet.

“Our analysis is showing that the expected water use associated with these permitted uses is substantially less,” said county Department of Planning and Development Services director Mark Wardlaw. “It is unlikely that in most cases a groundwater investigation would be required.”

The new ordinance adds agricultural use definitions for aquaponics, creamery, and mobile butchering. Aquaponics is defined as agriculture which combines cultivation of plants in the same water used to raise fish for consumption. The new ordinance requires aquaponics to be within enclosed structures, and county permits for the structures as well as Department of Environmental Health permits for the use are required.

A creamery is defined as the processing of milk products. It must be associated with an operating dairy and at least 50 percent of the milk must be produced by on-site animals. The production area can be between 2,000 and 4,000 square feet depending on the acreage of the property. Up to 30 percent of the total creamery area can be used for retail sales contingent upon the facility having at least six parking spaces.

Mobile butchering consists of two types. One type is mobile commercial butchering involving the operation of a vehicle for on-site livestock slaughtering. That requires affiliation with a permitted slaughterhouse which sells the product to the market, and such butchering is allowed on commercial, industrial, agricultural, or special purpose zones where food and beverage retail sales or packing and processing are permitted.

Mobile custom butchering includes on-site slaughtering but allows the property owner’s family and guests to consume the product.  Mobile custom butchering is allowed where livestock is raised and packing and processing is permitted.

Both types of mobile butchering require setbacks from a property line, a frequency restriction of six times per year on the same property and for no more than three consecutive days, and hours of operation limited to between 7 a.m. and 8 p.m. Mondays through Saturdays and between 9 a.m. and 6 p.m. on Sundays.

Agritourism requires that 50 percent of the property’s acreage be available for agricultural uses with active agricultural production on at least 25 percent of the acreage. Self-harvesting or “U-Pick” operations, on-site tours, and agricultural education are allowed.

Weddings or other similar gatherings are prohibited as an agritourism use, but community events or other special events sponsored by non-profit organizations are allowed subject to appropriate permits and other regulation.

An agricultural homestay with paying guests had been allowed for up to three bedrooms on land with A70 Limited Agriculture, A72 General Agriculture, or S92 General Rural zoning with the issuance of a Minor Use Permit. Such activity is now also allowed on land with RR Rural Residential or S90 Holding Area zoning (the S90 zone is used to prevent premature development until more precise zoning regulations are prepared and permitted areas are similar to those for A70 zones).

The new ordinance increases the number of bedrooms allowed for paying guests to five, limits the number of guests to no more than 15 total and no more than 10 adults, and prohibits weddings and other private events while allowing community events.

The previous Minor Use Permit requirement has been replaced by a Zoning Verification Permit which includes evidence of compliance and can be issued on the same day the application is submitted.

A Zoning Verification Permit will also allow a farmer or rancher to have a small agricultural store of no more than 1,500 square feet managed by the farmer or rancher and used to sell products grown on-site.

A minimum lot size of two acres is required for such a store on Rural Residential land while there is no minimum acreage requirement for stores in A70, A72, S88 (Specific Plan), S90, or S92 zones.

At least six parking spaces are required. Concerts are prohibited as are weddings and other private events. Up to 200 square feet are allowed for the display of products generated off-site.

A large agricultural store defined as a building between 1,501 and 3,000 square feet now requires an Administrative Permit. A minimum lot size of four acres is required in Rural Residential areas, the display of products generated off-site is limited to 30 percent of the retail floor area, on-site food preparation for on-site agricultural products is allowed, a seating area for consumption of on-site prepared foods is permitted if that area is less than 15 percent of the total building floor area, the number of parking spaces required corresponds with commercial retail parking regulations, and compliance with emergency travel time standards is required.

A small microbrewery or microdistillery, defined as annual production of no more than 2,000 beer barrels or 62,000 gallons, is now permitted with a Zoning Verification Permit although such an operation also requires the appropriate state Department of Alcoholic Beverage Control licenses.

At least one acre of the property must be planted with hops, barley, other grains, or other ingredients used for on-site production and at least 25 percent of the ingredients must be grown within San Diego County. The allowed floor area ranges from 2,000 to 5,000 square feet based on lot size, no more than 30 percent of the floor area can be used for tasting rooms, and at least six parking spaces are required.

Packaged foods and licensed caterers are permitted, but on-site food preparation is prohibited. Events other than community events are prohibited, and compliance with emergency travel times must be achieved. For groundwater-dependent sites a groundwater study will be required to demonstrate an adequate water supply.

A large microbrewery with annual production limited to 8,000 beer barrels or 124,000 gallons is now allowed with an Administrative Permit which can specify the hosting of special events and community events.

At least two acres must be planted with hops, grains, or other ingredients, the parking requirement is based on the Zoning Ordinance manufacturing and warehousing ratios for the brewing or distilling area and for the storage space, the sale or consumption of pre-packaged food is permitted in compliance with applicable food safety codes, and one on-site mobile food facility is allowed.

“It opens up the potential for us to be a profitable long-term business,” said Billy Woodson, who will be proceeding with his plans to have a microbrewery on his Fallbrook property.

“They’ll brew their beer in very small quantities,” said Scott McMillan, who owns 20 acres in Campo.

McMillan plans to open a microdistillery with wheat and barley grown on-site. “This is not some vodka that can be purchased at a grocery store for $5 for a fifth,” he said. “These items are premium items.”

The Zoning Ordinance was amended to exempt a brewery’s associated structures including water tanks and silos from height designator limits provided that the structure is no more than 50 feet in height and is located in an industrial or commercial zone.

A fishermen’s market can now be located on commercial or Specific Plan property and can occur concurrently with a certified farmer’s market up to two days each week between 6:30 a.m. and 10 p.m. Mondays through Saturdays and between 7:30 a.m. and 6 p.m. on Sundays.

A fishermen’s market is not allowed on private roads or on vacant land and is subject to all county and state health regulations.

The proposed general packing and processing use category is now allowed with the issuance of an Administrative Permit on A70, A72, S88, and S92 land as an incidental use to the agricultural use.  At least 50 percent of the total gross area must be available for agriculture, although if the site is at least 200 acres at least 40 acres must be in agricultural production.

The animal use regulations revisions changed the permit requirement for animal raising projects from a Minor Use Permit to an Administrative Permit and the requirement for chinchilla raising from a Major Use Permit to a Minor Use Permit.

In addition to potential discretionary permits, applicants may also need Department of Environmental Health food handling permits, septic and well permits, grading permits, improvement plan permits, building permits, and pesticide permits issued by the county’s Department of Agriculture, Weights and Measures (AWM).

“This is exactly the kind of agriculture that we want to promote and support,” Jacob said.

“It truly promotes agriculture,” said San Diego County Farm Bureau executive director Eric Larson.

Larson noted that the permit relaxations apply only to commercial agricultural operations. “It has to be a working farm,” he said.

“These ag promotion uses are accessory to a working farm.”

“It draws people from in the cities to out in the county,” said McMillan, who was raised in the University City area of San Diego. “It allows for relatively profitable business.”

The Planning Commission voted 4-0 Feb. 10 with three members absent to recommend the Zoning Ordinance amendments for the agriculture promotion program.

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