Urban Ag Text Amendments Pass Planning Commission
Yesterday afternoon, the City came one step closer to allowing and supporting urban agriculture. On a unanimous vote, the City Planning Commission voted to approve Planning staff's excellent recommended Zoning Code amendments, which I authored, and which do a great job of putting the Urban Agriculture Policy Plan adopted in spring of last year into effect.
The community support was staggering, and almost as important as the outcome. Staff received seventy comments in writing, all of them basically supportive of the staff recommendations - and most of them strongly so. It's clear that there is deep and broad support in the community for allowing market gardens (commercial growing operations that basically look and act like community gardens) in low-density residential districts.
Thirteen community members got up and spoke in favor of the plan. They represented urban farmers, community gardeners, farmers markets, Community Supported Agriculture, processors and more. The Minneapolis Food Council (to which I'm the Council's representative) passed a strong statement in support, and was joined by Blue Cross Blue Shield.
Some folks noted that they would go further on a few fronts, which shows me that the staff recommendations are reasonable, cautious, even a little conservative. A few of those points:
- Hoop houses. Staff have recommended that hoop houses (structures meant to extend the growing season) not be counted in the total square footage that each lot can have in "accessory structures," because they are seen as temporary. The building code's definition of temporary structures is that they should be up less than six months, so staff adopted the same standard for this exemption. Some urban farmers rightly point out that the period during which Minneapolis is at risk for frost is more like eight months, and have asked for this time to be lengthened.
- Selling from home. Until now, people haven't been able to farm in their own backyards and sell the produce. The staff recommendation changes that, but keeps the prohibition that exists for all home occupations on selling goods directly from the site. Some urban farm advocates would like to see that prohibition lifted.
- Chickens in Urban Farms and Market Gardens. The staff recommendation does not allow chickens at commercial uses. There was actually substantial agreement at the public hearing between urban farmers and those who are concerned for animal welfare: the City needs to improve the welfare standards in our Animal code before we can consider allowing chickens in commercial uses as well as backyards. I look forward to working on that.
- Compost. There are recommendations in the Urban Ag Policy Plan that aren't included in these text amendments, mostly because the City must wait until the Pollution Control Agency revises its rules - a process that is currently underway.
- The 75-day limit for Farmers Markets. One organization, that is not currently licensed as any type of public market, has asked that the number of days a farmers market can be open for business be raised from 75 to 180. That limit has been on the books for years, and staff do not support raising it. Other farmers markets - including representatives of the Mill City, Kingfield and Fulton markets - argued that the 75-day limit should be left in place. They make a strong case that the essential relationship between the producer and consumer could be threatened by lifting the limit. They also pointed out that no farmers market advocates have asked, in the Urban Ag Policy Plan process or the recent farmers market code update, for this limitation to be lifted.
I want to commend Aly Pennucci, the lead staff on this from the Planning Division, for her fantastic work on these changes. She did an incredible amount of work in less time than we often give for major Zoning Code revisions like this, and the strong community support and unanimous approval of the Planning Commission shows that she did it well. These amendments are a win for everyone, but especially Aly. Well done!
One last note. Council Member Gary Schiff noted, in abstaining from the unanimous vote in favor of the staff recommendation, that I have pushed this back a cycle. That is accurate; rather than bringing it forward at the February 16th Zoning and Planning committee meeting, I have asked to bring it to committee on March 1st. However, he added that the reason for this delay is to give time for "more consideration for amendments." That's not accurate, and perhaps even misleading. It sounds like it caused considerable confusion to the urban agriculture supporters who were present.
I asked for this delay as a courtesy to my colleague Meg Tuthill, who won't be able to be there on the 16th and wants to be present for the discussion. I am not working on any amendments. I am thrilled at how well Planning staff have translated the Urban Ag Policy Plan into Zoning Code text amendments, and I will happily and strongly support those recommendations as put forward and as passed unanimously by the Planning Commission. I am also unaware that any of my colleagues are working on amendments; if they are, I hope that they will be shared with the community soon, so that the many people who care deeply about this issue can review them and respond, if necessary.