BY ERIC LINDBERG
DAILY SOUND STAFF WRITER
For dozens of years, Fairview Gardens has been providing the Goleta community with fresh, organic produce. The 12-acre farm on Fairview Avenue is considered one of the oldest organic farms in Southern California and serves as a model for urban agriculture.
It also has been the subject of numerous complaints from neighbors who are disrupted by noisy roosters and dismayed by poor living conditions for the farm workers who live onsite, despite their support for the farm’s agricultural and educational mission.
Those concerns came one step closer to resolution at a Planning Commission meeting in Goleta on Monday evening, where a packed room of neighbors, farm workers and community members found common ground on many issues.
Ultimately, the Planning Commission voted in favor of recommending to the Goleta City Council that the farm be allowed to keep its onsite worker housing and chicken coop as long as it meets certain conditions.
Currently, Fairview Gardens does not have permits for three trailers and three yurts, or domelike structures, that serve as housing for the farm’s laborers, an issue that was brought to the farm’s attention about seven years ago.
Representatives from the farm came forward with a proposal to relocate the housing site to the center of the farm, get rid of the trailers, and plan for the construction of modular housing, a new restroom and shower facility, and a kitchen trailer. Those facilities will be connected to the Goleta sewer system, unlike the current housing and bathroom facilities.
“I am sorry at the pace with which the farm has moved to address violations,” said Matt Dobberteen, president of the Center for Urban Agriculture, which oversees the farm. “…We take these issues very seriously and we look forward to transforming the farm to a more community-based farm.”
A group of nearby residents calling themselves Concerned Neighbors of Fairview Gardens applauded the farm management’s attempts to bring their facilities up to code.
“After many longstanding sanitation code violations, we heartily approve of Fairview Gardens’ proposal to be annexed to the Goleta Sanitary District and connect all new facilities to the sewer,” said Linda Cobb, a member of the neighborhood group.
Although Commissioner Edward Easton abstained from voting after expressing a desire to see a more exact design plan for the new location of the housing, the other members seemed pleased to recommend the move.
In order to keep the onsite housing, however, the farm will have to make the switch in six months, if the commission’s recommendation is approved at City Council as drafted. After several members of the public called that timeline unmanageable, the commissioners directed city staff to meet with farm management and neighbors to develop alternatives for the council to consider.
“This is an important asset to our community, so I think it’s important we find a way to make this happen,” Commissioner Doris Kavanagh said.
Part of that issue is finding funding for the relocation effort, which is expected to be in the range of $250,000. Building modular housing, which would be required in five years under the recommendations, is expected to cost $2 million.
Concerns from neighbors about the noisy chicken coop, and crowing roosters in particular, also received attention at the hearing. Although initial plans put forward by the farm suggested reducing the rooster population to four from 12 and moving them to the center of the property, farm manager Toby McPartland announced that roosters will no longer be housed on the farm to applause from the audience.
As far as the remaining 100 hens, they will remain in their current home, a mobile chicken coop, which will be rotated around the farm at least 100 feet from the property line to reduce noise issues.
Although the Planning Commission recommended approval of those two items — permits for onsite housing and a chicken coop — they recommended the council turn down several other permit applications from the farm, including amendments to the city code allowing them to have buildings up to 2,000 square feet for produce sales and to sell products grown offsite.
City secretary Patricia Miller explained that the recommendation is to deny those applications without prejudice, meaning the farm management can return in a short period of time with the exact same permit request. She said city staff did not have sufficient time to examine those issues and did not want to hold up the process of relocating housing.
“We cannot wait another three to four months as we look into the other bundle of requests,” she said.
The Planning Commission recommendations are expected to be considered by the City Council in at least a month, but likely longer. In the meantime, farm managers said they plan to continue to work with neighbors to address any issues they can in the interim, much to the appreciation of residents in attendance.
“We’ve made so much progress tonight,” said Steve Nelson, a member of the neighborhood group. “I feel like we’ve been pushing and pushing and now there is nothing left to push against.”
Monday, February 11, 2008
BY ERIC LINDBERG