The Urban Ag plan passed the Zoning and Planning committee unanimously
this morning. There were several amendments, but I believe that the plan has made it through this step of the process in great shape, with the core and most essential recommendations intact. If you’d like to watch this morning’s Zoning and Planning meeting, a recording of it will be posted here
. A revised plan, reflecting the edits made, will be posted soon on the project website
The most important piece we talked about this morning had to do with market gardens. These are small-scale, low-intensity commercial gardens that will be very similar to the community gardens we already allow. I was concerned that my colleagues might try to change the plan to prohibit these in certain zoning districts, or require that market gardeners get Conditional Use Permits (a process that costs at least $550 to even begin, erecting a formidable barrier to new market gardens).
So I worked with my colleagues to come up with an amendment that allows us to have this discussion as part of the process to amend the zoning code. It leaves our options open to allow market gardens in low-density residential districts (where the land is), but clarifies some of the restrictions I always expected we would include: no retail sales on-site, no overhead lighting, no parking of more than two vehicles, and only a small, non-illuminated sign of four square feet or less. These are the restrictions that currently exist for community gardens. In addition, several of my colleagues confirmed that our goal is to find a way for market gardens to work in low-density residential areas.
A few other relatively minor changes were made, two of which I disagreed with. The first I disagreed with was to strip the recommendation about conservation easements - which make a piece of land unbuildable - from the plan. I continue to believe that it's reasonable for us to base the price of land on its value with these easements, if we choose to place them on a property. The second deleted the recommendation about studying hooved animals. I don't think it's unreasonable for us to commit to studying that issue at some point in the future. If the mood on the Council changes, we can certainly take this up again, even if this plan doesn't mention it.
Even with these changes, I consider today a major, exciting win for the local food movement. The most important aspects of the plan came through today's committee meeting fundamentally strong. I see this as a giant step forward for building a vibrant local food economy, with all of the attendant benefits to health, the environment, and green jobs.
I don't think we could have done this without the tremendous outpouring of public support that this plan has received. My office has received tens of calls and emails in support of the plan, and I don't think I'm the only one. A group of local food activists collected over 200 petition signatures in support of the plan in just three days, including over 20 Second Ward residents. An online petition
has garnered over 180 signatures in just a few days. All Council Members were sent a thoughtful and well-reasoned appeal for market gardens by the President of the Planning Commission, David Motzenbecker.
In addition to this outpouring of public support, we received a substantial amount of support from organizations that pay attention to food policy: our own Citizens Environmental Advisory Committee, the Land Stewardship Project, the Institute for Agriculture and Trade Policy, Blue Cross / Blue Shield, Powderhorn Youth Garden, Uptown Farmers, Corcoran GROWS, Project Sweetie Pie, the Health and Wellness Manager at the Sabathani Community Center and others. It's thanks to the organizing of these individuals and groups that the plan is moving forward in such a strong form, and I thank you all for helping make it happen.
Still, we have long way to go before we realize the vision in the plan for more local urban commercial food growing, processing and comsuming. A week from Friday (on the 15th) the Policy Plan will need to be approved by the full Council and signed by the Mayor. Following that the work of implementing the recommendations with begin. Some, the creation of a Homegrown Minneapolis Businesses Center
, has already begun. Others, however, will take longer and involve more complex ordinance amendments dealing with land use and zoning. Assuming the Policy Plan is passed on the 15th, I will working most intensely in the months ahead on these "zoning code text amendments" that will be needed to implement the policies outlined in the Plan. I hope to introduce these at the end of April, or in early May. Here is a rough time line of what to expect:
- Zoning code text amendment "subject matter" is introduced by a Council Member at a City Council Meeting. The subject matter will need to be noticed for two weeks and then approved by a majority to be referred to a committee.
- Council Committee then will likley refer the proposed amendment to staff for further research, work with technical experts and community outreach.
- Council Member "author(s)" work with staff and staff brings specific proposed ordinance changes to the Planning Commission.
- The Planning Commission holds a public hearing, possibly amends and recommends action to the Zoning and Planning Committee.
- Zoning and Planning Committee reviews the proposed changes, possibly amends them and recommend action by the full Council.
- The Council considers the amendments at its next meeting.
So, in the months ahead, I will be working hard to make sure this is a high priority for the Council and would expect that the urban agriculture zoning code text changes could potentially be in place before the beginning of 2012 growing season. As this work continues I encourage everyone who is interested to stay involved, help inform others, and never hesitiate to share your concerns, questions or ideas with me and others in our city government.