RSF Association could send Village Church columbarium to a vote next month

The Village Church has proposed a memorial garden to store cremains on their property in Rancho Santa Fe, which is currently prohibited by the Covenant.
(Karen Billing)

The Rancho Santa Fe Association Board of Directors voted to move forward on the Covenant modification process for the Village Community Presbyterian Church’s proposed columbarium project.

Last fall the Village Church proposed its plans for a columbarium, a memorial garden with niches to keep human cremains, a use that is currently prohibited by the Rancho Santa Fe Association’s Protective Covenant. As the use is prohibited, it would require an amendment of the Association’s governing document that was drawn up in 1927 with a positive vote from the community at large.

A Covenant modification has not been made in Rancho Santa Fe since 1973. With direction from the board at the Feb. 6 meeting, RSF Association Manager Christy Whalen said that staff will work to determine what would be required in a Covenant-wide vote and come back in March with the proposed ballot language and process.

Two-thirds of the property owners of record in the Covenant and two-thirds of the Covenant area would need to vote in favor of the change. The votes will be weighted by property size which will require staff to undergo a process of acreage calculation in preparation for the vote.

RSF Association Director Steve Dunn said that the Association has the information about physical lot sizes and accessor parcel numbers but it has not yet been coalesced. “It’s something that we should do notwithstanding of this question,” Dunn said.

With the columbarium, the Village Church’s plan is for an existing courtyard between the sanctuary and fellowship hall to be enhanced with about 300 to 350 niches to hold individual cremains or those of multiple family members.
The church submitted its proposal to the Art Jury in October 2019; the Art Jury had no comments on the concept design but remanded the whole application to the Association board due to the prohibition on columbariums.

The board’s vote to move forward was 6-0 with Director Laurel Lemarie abstaining.

“I don’t know if we will come close to the threshold needed to do an amendment,” Lemarie said, adding that one of the highest voter turnouts they had was in 2015 when about 70 percent voted in the roundabouts survey (1,089 votes cast).

The Association has seen high voter turnout in past years on key issues such as the 2014 vote on a planning phase for a potential pool and fitness club, and in 2016 they achieved over 75 percent turnout in the 2016 Association board election in which six candidates vied for three seats (1,694 ballots cast). In the 2017 Rancho Santa Fe Connect vote, 959 votes were cast.

RSF Association President Rick Sapp has stated that the Association board has no authority to strike even a word of the Covenant on its own. He said it is worth giving the community an opportunity to speak their minds on the issue.