Rebuilding Place in the Urban Space

"A community’s physical form, rather than its land uses, is its most intrinsic and enduring characteristic." [Katz, EPA] This blog focuses on place and placemaking and all that makes it work--historic preservation, urban design, transportation, asset-based community development, arts & cultural development, commercial district revitalization, tourism & destination development, and quality of life advocacy--along with doses of civic engagement and good governance watchdogging.

Sunday, March 04, 2012

Zoning and market gardening...

Market gardening was what small urban farms were called at the turn of the 20th century, at least according to Census enumeration sheets that I've studied for the H Street NE neighborhood. A goodly number of people were market gardeners, and I expect that there were feed stores in various parts of the city, although mostly in what was originally "Washington County," the part of the city outside of that designed by L'Enfant as well as Georgetown, whose founding precedes the creation of the District of Columbia.

The rise in Urban Agriculture, a concern with local food production and the locavore movement, and even the DIY culture--there are many resources and aspects, ranging from the magazine Urban Farm to the Spin Gardening farming as a business approach, indoor operations, urban distilleries and breweries and yes, poultry--is changing how we think about food, in cities and regions, and with regard to our own place in the food system.

City zoning and land use regulations haven't caught up for the most part, as evidenced by the case in Oak Park, Michigan where a front yard vegetable garden was deemed a nuisance by the local housing inspector.

DC's zoning requirements with regard to poultry limit its legality to all but a few houses in most of the city (e.g., I know someone with a one-acre house lot in Takoma DC, and they could manage to place legally a poultry house in the middle of their lot were they so inclined)--but most lots aren't wide enough to be able to have 50 feet clearance from every lot line to the abutting property.

Although many cities are updating various regulations (poultry is legal in many cities now, including Seattle where we know a couple with a backyard coop).

"Mixed use" agriculture and residential living in suburban areas continues to be a wrenching land use issue also.

As sprawl overtakes areas traditionally devoted to farming, and "agricultural" lands are a kind of hopscotch mixed in between residential subdivisions, those farms that remain often run into problems with residents in the area who object to various farming practices and how they impact their residential life. (Speaking of sounds in the city (and country) how about this one? Although regular dog barking can be just as annoying.)

Just like the case below from Los Angeles, where regulations said that it was legal to grow food products, but didn't specifically mention flowers, and so flower growing was successfully opposed by someone with a bone to pick, residents tend to define "agricultural use" much more narrowly than do farmers. E.g., agri-tourism, events at wineries, etc., canning products for resale, etc., can be a necessary revenue stream to keep farms in business when the expenses of growing crops rise faster than revenue

This has been an issue in Maryland, in Baltimore County, where there was a long-running battle by neighbors who opposed a dairy farm's selling ice cream from a stand on the property ("Turn Conflict Into Sweet Cream: After fighting lawsuits by neighbors, dairy farmers Pam and Bobby Prigel are milking cows AND selling ice cream from Progressive Farmer Magazine), and in Virginia ("Washington, D.C., suburb OKs winery: Paradise Springs overcomes zoning hurdles to become first winery in Fairfax County from Wines & Vines Magazine).

In Los Angeles, Silver Lake flower grower Tara Kolla had to "fight city hall" to make growing crops as a business legal in residential areas. See "Market Watch: An urban farmer's passion blooms again" from the Los Angeles Times.

From the article:

Kolla started with a dream — a flower farm based in her Silver Lake backyard — then was forced by city authorities to close down, due to a quirk in the municipal code. But she dug in her heels, fought City Hall and won, thereby providing a clear legal foundation for other growers in residential areas in the city of Los Angeles.

Her case stemmed specifically from a neighbor who objected to her business, but urban farming is a hot trend, and there are plenty of others who could have faced similar difficulties had she not succeeded in changing the law.

Soon after buying a home in Silver Lake in 2001, Kolla decided to farm her half-acre backyard and started growing flowers alongside the usual assortment of fruit trees. "It just seemed to be the most sensible way to cover the cost of maintaining that huge property, to grow something that I could sell," she said on a recent visit. ...

All went well until 2009, when a neighbor, a lawyer with whom Kolla had had a minor disagreement, complained to the City of Los Angeles Department of Building and Safety that she was illegally growing flowers on her property for sale off-site. The existing truck-gardening ordinance, part of the residential zoning code, stated that it was permissible to grow vegetables on residential property for sale off-site but did not mention flowers or fruits.

The city authorities agreed with the neighbor and in spring 2009, right at the peak of Kolla's harvest, ordered her to stop farming. Disconsolate, she gave away all her flowers.

I expect that more of these types of action will be going forward in the coming years, as our concepts of what it means to be urban and sustainable change, and laws and regulations catch up to updated understandings.

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