Association board approves potential ballot language on columbarium vote

The Village Church has proposed a memorial garden for the storage of human cremains.
(Karen Billing)

The Rancho Santa Fe Association board approved the ballot language for a potential community-wide vote on a Covevant Modification that would allow the Village Community Presbyterian Church to go forward with its columbarium project. The church’s proposed columbarium, a memorial garden with niches to keep human cremains, is currently prohibited by the Association’s Protective Covenant.

At a future meeting, the board members will take action on whether or not to send the question to a vote and communicate their reasons and rationale with the community. If it does go to a vote, it would likely be included in the May election of directors, on a separate ballot.

The existing language, drafted in 1929, permits the building of a “saloon, place for the sale of manufacture for sale of malt, vinous or spirituous liquors”; any foundry, brickyard, cemetery or columbarium. The board approved adding the language: “columbarium except on land zoned J-Religious Edifices.”

There are only two parcels in the Covenant that are in zone J including the Village Church and First Church of Christ, Scientist on La Flecha.

The vote to approve the language was 6-0 with board director Laurel Lemarie abstaining.

“Our founders knew about churches and just said columbariums,” said Lemarie. “Why would they say no columbariums?”

In her interpretation of the document, the founders did not want the storage of ashes or remains to be permitted in Rancho Santa Fe.

“This is a commercial venture for the church and (the language) is not good enough for me,” Lemarie said.

RSF Association President Rick Sapp said he could only speculate as to what the founders were thinking when they wrote the Covenant. In his interpretation, at that time there were multiple large acre lots available and the founders wanted to ensure that land would not be used for cemeteries, crematoriums or columbariums—which in the 1920s were defined as large buildings for the storage of ashes—to preserve the rural character of the community.

Sapp said if the Covenant Modification passes, the Association will be able to create a new regulation on the definition of columbariums.

“You can be born in Rancho Santa Fe, you can live in Rancho Santa Fe and you can die in Rancho Santa Fe but you can’t be interned or buried here. That’s the option we would be asking the community to decide,” Sapp said.

RSF Association Vice President Mike Gallagher said that the community will have to endorse it strongly as Covenant Modifications require two-thirds of the property owners of record in the Covenant and two-thirds of the Covenant area to vote in favor of the change. The votes will be weighted by property size.

The Village Church submitted its proposal for the memorial garden to the Art Jury in October 2019. As it was such a minimal development, the Art Jury made no comments on the concept design but remanded the application to the Association board due to the prohibition on columbariums.

The church made its first formal presentation to the Association board in January and in February the board voted to move forward with the process to draft potential ballot language.

A Covenant Modification has not been made in Rancho Santa Fe since 1973.