Monday, August 24, 2009

Only One of Springfield's Farmers' Markets is Legal Today but, not as a "Farmers' Market"

Should be addressed by the Urban Garden Task Force, along with other issues

Imagine going to a Springfield restaurant and telling your waiter or waitress, "I'll have the urban broccoli with the urban goat cheese sauce, please." That might be a possibility if some Springfieldians get their way but, before your mind and palate run away with the little red hen to bake bread made with freshly milled, urban grown wheat, there are many other issues that have to be considered by the Urban Garden Task Force.

According to Director of Building Development Services Nick Heatherly, only the Farmers' Market set up at the Battlefield Mall is currently legal, and that market is legal because it has been deemed a "vendor's site" rather than a Farmer's Market.

"We don't have a farmer's market," Heatherly said. "It's not a permitted use anywhere in the City of Springfield. You (the Urban Garden Task Force) may want to address that. Those that we have really shouldn't be there according to the zoning," Heatherly told the task force at their second meeting on August 18.

At least one citizen (yours truly) wonders why zoning regulations were not taken seriously when Farmers' Markets were allowed. Why was an ordinance change not mandated before farmers' markets were allowed if they "shouldn't be there according to the zoning?"

When Melissa Millsap advised the City she would like to purchase an additional residential lot adjacent to her own and set up a stand to sell produce somewhere on her property, the zoning ordinances were taken seriously. Millsap was told it would require an ordinance change, or amendment, in order for her to be allowed to sell commercially on a residential zoned site.

If zoning ordinances could be bent to allow Farmers' Markets because the City happened to like the idea at the time then, why should they not be bent for everyone because, clearly, every citizen of Springfield likes their own ideas when they request permission from the City to proceed with them.

Heatherly did explain that the City government is not bound by zoning ordinances on public property but, that they make an effort to abide by the same requirements they mandate private citizens follow.

City staff members, as well as Planning and Zoning Commissioners, have indicated they want to "enable, facilitate, and encourage the development of Urban Gardens as a commercial enterprise to maximize local food resources and the use of non-productive or vacant lots in such a manner as to be non-invasive to the community or neighborhood," in fact, that is "the charge" the Urban Garden Task Force is considering.

At the August 18, meeting, Heatherly asked the Task Force to eventually provide clarification and direction to the City staff on a number of issues.

Categories included definitions for different types of urban garden uses, such as, retail operations and non-retail operations.

According to Heatherly, the City relies heavily on specific use definitions.

"We don't know what you want to call it. Is it a market garden, is it a neighborhood garden, is it an urban garden, is it an urban farm? Whatever it is, whatever you finally decide, those are the things we'll need to look at," Heatherly said.

He told the task force if there are different types of gardens, each type would require its own definition.

Task force member Galen Chadwick seemed to agree that types and definitions of uses were important. He asked the task force to consider urban agriculture as a broader range of uses that would, or could, include animal husbandry.

"Rabbit hutches and chicken coops and all of that's going to come up," Chadwick said. He referred the task force to a recent issue of "Time Magazine" that included an article on urban farming.

"It's a $20 fee if you want to be an urban gardener in the city of Chicago. They will till the soil, do the soil test...and furnish the seeds for free," Chadwick said. "In the City of Atlanta, there are now 700 chicken coops, most of them are for egg use and 5 are for resale purposes. The poultry structures in the city of Oakland...must be a minimum of 20 feet from the residences. It's a wave," Chadwick said, "we're not the only ones dealing with this. There's millions of people now who have already decided these issues."

Other issues Heatherly listed as needing clarification and direction were: Zoning issues; parking issues; landscaping and buffer yard requirements; accessory structures; noise and dust issues; signage; trash and waste disposal; minimum open space; maximum impervious surface; lighting standards; Christmas tree sales; mazes; restrooms; business license; use of public lands; clean-up; large equipment usage; sediment and erosion control and; water availability/requirement.

Assistant city attorney Nancy Yendez addressed the bearing Missouri state statutes might have on city policy.

"We're talking about the way you use your land," Yendez said. "We may not be able to tax you but, we could certainly, I think, tell you you can't put your cart out in front of the courthouse."

Chadwick said the city's ability to exercise zoning authority was never really a question.

"Nothing prohibits any zoning powers. I don't know that that was ever the issue," Chadwick said.

The chairman of the Urban Garden Task Force Jack Wheeler seems to be leaning toward permitted use of urban gardens (if that's what they decide to call it) rather than conditional use.

"If it's a permitted use, there's no licensing procedure needed, no inspection needed, it's only enforcement issue would be, probably, if somebody felt that a person was going outside of what is the permitted use so, we might be defining permitted uses down the road on this task force, I mean (defining) recommended (uses)," Wheeler said.

Heatherly reminded the task force that unless the uses permitted were clearly defined, the current zoning ordinance would, by default, apply to urban gardening.

"If you don't make any adjustments to these other items...then the rest of the zoning ordinance will apply to that use just like it would apply to the veterinarian clinic, upholstery shop, the police and fire station, the private club," Heatherly said.

The next meeting of the task force is scheduled at 6:30 PM, Tuesday, August 25. The meetings take place in the 4th floor conference room of the Busch Municipal Building. The meetings are open to the public.



Darin Codon said...

I was always under the impression that Branson was more stringent than Springfield when it came to zoning regulations.

I wonder what the context was that this law was created and how easy it would be to overturn. Perhaps, there was a time when markets were seen as too great of competition to grocery stores.

I'd love to see a follow up!

Branson Missouri

Jackie Melton said...

I'm trying to follow this issue closely, Darin so, there will definitely be a follow up. Stay tuned!

Jackie Melton said...

Oh, and it isn't that Spfld has zoning laws against Farmer's Markets, per se, there simply aren't any zoning regs that cover them as a "permitted use."

Darin Codon said...

I see. So, the issue isn't a law drafted to stop farmer's markets but rather none in place to allow them.

The state of Missouri Department of Agriculture promotes these types of community events dedicating resources to help communities hold them.

I would highly encourage you to contact them in regards to obtaining support for the effort.

Branson Missouri

pancho said...

A very good article, Jackie.
Like everyone else, I'm eager to see where this is all going to go.

One minor correction: I think Chadwick mispoke when he said "Chicago" was the city doing so many things for the citizen gardener. Detroit is the correct city.

One news story indicates that there are no longer ANY major grocery chains in Detroit; some 40,000 senior citizens are reported to be teetering on the brink of genuine hunger. Wake up, Springfield!

Jackie Melton said...

Thanks Pancho!