Changes proposed to urban agriculture rules

Several changes to the proposed zoning rules for urban agriculture will be up for discussion when the City Council’s Zoning and Planning Committee next convenes on March 22.


The proposed changes don’t represent the worst-case scenario some urban agriculture proponents feared. But at least one of the three amendments offered by Ward 10 City Council Member Meg Tuthill could make a significant difference for urban farmers.


Tuthill sits on the Zoning and Planning Committee, which will soon make a recommendation to the full council on the Urban Agriculture Zoning Text Amendment, a set of new zoning rules that would for the first time define many common urban agriculture practices in city code. The progress of the amendment is being closely monitored by urban farmers who want the new rules adopted before the outdoor growing season commences in just a few weeks.


One of three amendments introduced by Tuthill March 1 would significantly reduce the number of days market gardeners could sell their products from on-site farmstands. City staff recommended a maximum of 25 sale days per year, and Tuthill would like to see that number reduced to just two sales of no more than 72-hours each, the same as the rules for garage sales.


Tuthill’s proposal was intended to limit the impact on neighbors of any noise and traffic associated with the sales, as market gardens would be allowed in residential areas under the new rules.


Ward 2 City Council Member Cam Gordon, whose office helped to coordinate discussions between city staff and urban farmers as the new rules were developed, proposed his own amendment to counter the concerns raised by Tuthill. The Gordon amendment would clarify the rules, adding explicit language to require market garden operators to notify their adjacent neighbors, neighborhood organization and City Council member when they seek a temporary use permit for farmstand sales.


With her second amendment, Tuthill proposed to limit the height of hoop houses to 6 feet. City staff’s recommendation was that the temporary structures, used to extend the growing season, be allowed up to 12 feet tall.


Anna Cioffi of the Land Stewardship Project said the lower height would make it difficult for farmers to work inside the hoop houses.


Robin Garwood of Council Member Gordon’s office added another potential concern: Since the hoop houses are typically semi-circular structures, similar to Quonset huts, the 6-foot height limit could significantly limit the type of produce that could be grown inside of them. Even tomato plants could quickly become too tall to grow anywhere but directly underneath the structure’s apex, Garwood said.


Tuthill’s third amendment was an attempt to more clearly define the materials that can be used to construct raised planting beds. Her language would require them to be constructed of wood, brick, masonry, landscape timbers or synthetic lumber only.


If the Urban Agriculture Zoning Text Amendment stays on-track for a March 22 Zoning and Planning Committee vote, it would come before the full council March 30.