By Karen Billing
Planning for a farmers market in the Rancho Santa Fe village hit a roadblock last week when the RSF Association board found out that a portion of the proposed location may not be feasible.
The plan, as presented at the Nov. 7 RSF Association meeting, was for half of the proposed weekly Saturday market’s 36 booths to be located in the south village park along the walking path, with the rest of the booths located on La Gracia, which would be closed to traffic. However, as RSF Association Assistant Manager Ivan Holler recently found out from the county, markets are regulated by zoning ordinances and can only occur on public property or commercially-designated areas in the specific plan. The village parks are designated as open space, therefore, the market would not be permitted.
While the market had been on the RSF Association board’s agenda for approval at the Nov. 7 meeting, the board directed market organizer Janet Lawless Christ to come back with an alternative location, as well as some further logistical details.
Christ has been at the drawing board for the market since 2010 and has tapped Brandon Janiss and Tasha Ardalan as potential market managers; Janiss and Ardalan manage the Welk Certified Farmers Market in Escondido. Christ hopes to get the market going as soon as possible to help attract people to the village and bring in a nice weekend activity for residents.
“Quite honestly, we have a downtown that is failing to thrive,” Christ said. “I’m trying to give a little life to the community. I’m encouraging everybody not to be so afraid to give it a try.”
At the meeting, residents spoke out both in favor and against the market.
“I feel like the village is dying…I’m desperate for it,” said Coleen Freeman, owner of Rancho Santa Fe Estate & Fine Jewelry. “Anything that will bring people to town is a good thing.”
Karen Van Ness, a new RSF resident, said “Rancho Santa Fe is not a cult compound” and residents should not be afraid of people coming to the village. She said the village businesses need the help and the foot traffic a market would provide.
“On weekends, it looks like a ghost town, it’s depressing,” Van Ness said.
Gayle Gillies, a 45-year RSF resident who owned a village business for 28 years, prefers the quiet.
Gillies spoke on behalf of seven homeowners in her complex that oppose the market.
“It would ruin the weekends for all of us,” Gillies said. “Our serenity would be shattered every single Saturday.”
In looking at the latest snag regarding the market location, Holler said it is possible for the Association to go though the county process of changing the zoning of the parks to commercial, but there would be potential ramifications in doing that.
“It would be available to commercial development in the future and would substantially change the character of the parks,” Holler said.
RSF Association Director Jerry Yahr questioned whether the market would still be viable with just the 18 stalls on La Gracia.
“Ultimately the viability of the market depends on community support,” Janiss said.
With the change in the availability of the park spaces, alternate locations were proposed but Christ said they have looked extensively at many of the suggested spots, running down the number of locations they have considered.
She said the school parking lot isn’t a possibility due to sports activities needing parking; the RSF Garden Club lot was not feasible because there’s a pitch to it; the alley behind the RSF Pharmacy is not wide enough; and El Tordo was nixed because 16 residents objected to traffic implications.
The Christian Science Church parking lot was also proposed but Christ said because it’s not centrally located in town, it defeats the purpose of bringing people to the village.
RSF Association Director Philip Wilkinson proposed that Christ look at locating the market on Avenida de Acacias in front of the under-construction, new commercial/office center Plaza de Acacias and Union Bank.
Christ said she would consider it but noted it would require 100 percent consensus from the adjacent property owners.
Van Ness pointed out that it might be worth giving the farmers market a try because if it doesn’t work, the market can be discontinued in a week.
Longtime RSF resident and past RSF Association Board President Jack Queen agreed, relating the situation to when he helped bring a Formula 1 race to Long Beach. They offered to bus residents who would be negatively impacted by the race out of town during the event and in the first year 300 people took them up on the offer of a trip to Palm Springs, but over the years those numbers dwindled to just 35.
“Once they heard how much fun it was they loved the event,” Queen said. “You’re going to get people who are [impacted] in a negative way. Give it six months and see how it works.”