RSF Association to vote on change allowing Village Church columbarium

The Village Church hopes to put a columbarium in its prayer garden. The use is currently prohibited by the Covenant.
(Karen Billing)

This month Rancho Santa Fe Association members will be asked to vote on a proposed Covenant modification that would allow the Village Church to install a columbarium, a memorial garden with niches to keep human cremains.

Two-thirds of the property owners of record in the Covenant and two-thirds of the Covenant area must vote in favor of the change. The votes will be weighted by property size.

Article 1 of the Rancho Santa Fe Protective Covenant, drafted in 1929, prohibits properties being used for a cemetery, columbarium or crematory. According to the church’s submission to the Art Jury, in the 1920s columbariums were typically much larger edifices and buildings that look very different to what a current columbarium looks like.

The Village Church’s proposed columbarium will be hidden from public view, in niched walls in an existing courtyard between the sanctuary and fellowship hall at the Paseo Delicias campus.

The proposed new Covenant language will continue to prohibit columbariums 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 Association has voting rights as it owns 51 properties (6,100 total acreage), representing 5.4% of all the acreage in the Covenant. At the board’s July 2 meeting, the board voted 6-1 to direct Manager Christy Whalen to vote in favor of the proposed change.

RSF Association Director Laurel Lemarie voted in opposition as she said she believes she is strictly following the intent of the Covenant, as the prohibition was included in the first paragraphs of the document.

“I don’t see it as a benefit to our Covenant, I see it as a benefit to the church,” Lemarie said.

RSF Association Director Steve Dunn disagreed with Lemarie as he said the columbarium would be a community benefit as it would be open to all, not just church members.

RSF Association President Rick Sapp made it clear the board was not debating the merits of the project that day but just assigning the voting of the Association-owned parcels. The board does not have the authority to change the wording of the Covenant—it has to be a community-wide vote with two-thirds majority in favor, which can be a daunting task. A Covenant modification has not been made in Rancho Santa Fe since 1973.

“The purpose of this not being a board decision is that the members can determine what’s in the best interest of their own selves and ultimately the whole community, that’s why this vote is taking place,” Sapp said.

For purposes of disclosure, board members Lemarie, Bill Strong, Bill Weber and Dunn all stated they are members of the Village Church.

Weber acknowledged Lemarie’s point that the prohibition appears in the first paragraphs of the Covenant but he said if the founders had not wanted there to be any changes to the document, they would not have put in a mechanism to make Covenant modifications.

“I think they anticipated the fact that as time goes on, the community may wish to make changes to the Protective Covenant,” Weber said.

Ballots were mailed last week and are due back by Aug. 5.