Tuesday, September 01, 2009

Urban Garden Task Force Moved to Fast Track

So many gray areas, so little time

The Urban Garden Task Force meeting on August 25 brought with it some contention among dual members of the task force and the Planning and Zoning Commission and one of the task force members.

Springfield-Greene County Parks Director Jodie Adams made a presentation during the first part of the meeting. Adams and the Park Board plan to kick off an urban garden rental pilot project at the Rutledge-Wilson Farm Community Park in time for planting in the spring of 2010.

After Adam's presentation, task force chair Jack Wheeler quickly tried to narrow past discussions of the task force toward what the Planning and Zoning Commissioners felt were the key issues. Wheeler and Senior Planner Daniel Neal's areas of focus seemed to fix upon sales or distribution of farm produce and possible traffic increases to residential zoned districts.

"(Director of Building Development Services) Nick (Heatherly) kind of focused back on, well, if you're selling something for nothing it's still distributing it," Wheeler said. "I still say, as long as you're just giving it (garden produce) away, I guess, if you don't set up a stand and give it there (on-site), you can do whatever you want."

Neal said he had been in recent meetings with Heatherly, and the subject of home occupations had been a part of the discussion. Neal pointed out there are a lot of gray areas in the ordinance.

"What are you attracting to the site? You know, this is a retail, if it's a retail operation there, and, of course, that's something that would not be allowed because it's (residential zoned district) not a permitted district so, in a round about way we don't, it's still a pretty open gray area." Neal said. "The home occupations clearly delineate between two types of uses, one that attracts (traffic or customers) to the single family neighborhood and one that doesn't so, I'd say that would be a major factor in the decision of what's determined."

In the first two meetings of the task force, Wheeler had suggested he wanted the task force to be informal. He appointed Task Force member Galen Chadwick as the "resource man" of the task force and suggested he bring reading material pertinent to the issue for the task force to read.

Wheeler had previously indicated the charge could be changed if the task force wished to discuss changes, and had suggested the task force could add meetings at their pleasure. In fact, at their first meeting, Wheeler told the Task Force they were not limited to only four meetings, "We can add days, too. We can do whatever we want," but the tone of the meeting changed on August 25.

"Now, we've had a pretty wide ranging discussion so, we're really going to have to bring this back to come up with something that we can do to specifically focus on. I think a lot of Galen (Chadwick's) interests are very significant," Wheeler said at the August 25 meeting. "We may have to, actually, eventually, have to separate into two different issues because I can see the subject is so huge that if we don't get our group focused we'll never get a charge done, we'll never get an ordinance written."

Chadwick had his own view about what might slow down the task force's progress.

"These gray areas are golden opportunities. You don't have a, or very much, definition of anything that's stopping you from coming up with a comprehensive, coordinated plan that involves civic pride that focuses on sustainability," Chadwick said. "If you start with a philosophical statement, 'we want a sustainable Springfield,' then work backwards from that willingness to see that we could have resiliency...diversity, as a guiding principle, then you're building a house from the ground up. Each issue comes up before this board because you're focused on the details rather than the structure of the (comprehensive plan)."

The back and forth conversation between dual Planning and Zoning and Task Force member King Coltrin and Chadwick at that point is best shared as stated, trying to characterize it could not possibly do it justice.

Coltrin, to Chadwick: "Our task here is to, before I die, allow people to grow that garden. I can't social engineer this city in this task force. If you would like to socially engineer this city then I think you need to talk to the Mayor about a bigger task force and get that set up for a larger project..."

Chadwick interrupted, taking umbrage at Coltrin's characterization that he was trying to "socially engineer" the City of Springfield.

Coltrin: "Can I talk now? I let you talk."

Chadwick: You cannot mischaracterize..."

Coltrin: "I can't talk right now."

Chadwick: "You can't mischaracterize my words. I never said 'social engineering.' I don't want that on the record, sir, because other people are listening, including the media...I'm not going to be tagged with the label "social engineering.""

Coltrin: "I'm perfectly clear that what your realm of purview is is so large that we will not get through our task, which is to try and clear the way for people to do simple things as gardens in time for them to hit spring planting."

(Here: With Coltrin and Chadwick talking at once there was some unintelligible banter, I could not discern)

Chadwick: "I'm happy you do (want to clear the way for spring planting) we've met three times already, and we have nothing so far. I'm not controlling the agenda, you are."

Chadwick was later put on notice, via email, by another dual member of the task force and the Planning and Zoning Commission.

In an email written the day after the Urban Task Force's meeting, dual member Ray Shermer informed Chadwick that after the last meeting he "felt compelled" to send the following message.

"You come across with a vast knowledge of agricultural issues. The problem is that most of your comments are off-point to our discussion and are slowing down the process. I, for one, am not interested in the broad scenarios you espouse and by other’s negative reactions most members are not either.* We cannot include those off-tangential points in an ordinance. They are superfluous. We are simply trying to craft an ordinance to permit urban gardens when and where we can in this city. And Galen, there will be regulations governing certain gardening enterprises."

Shermer added, "So, I would appreciate, if you want to be a part of the process, stay on target and let us finish this work expeditiously."

Two days after the August 25 meeting, the September 1 task force meeting was postponed.

"Chair Jack Wheeler has requested the Task Force meeting next Tuesday be postponed to provide staff and the task force with more time to submit and review pertinent information for the discussion regarding draft Zoning Ordinance definitions," Senior City Planner Daniel Neal wrote in an email Thursday, August 27.

In another email, Planning & Development Department Director Ralph Rodnstad told JackeHammer, the Planning and Zoning Commission has "the authority to establish a task force to address an issue."

"I may have stated that Council probably did not have time to get involved, but I never asked the Mayor or Council if they wanted to be involved," Rodnstad wrote, "In some ways, it is better not to involve Council at this stage because Council is the ultimate decision maker and if a Council member or members are involved in a Commission task force, everyone may ignore Commissioners and just focus on the decision makers."

Rodnstad also further explained what the public can expect from the Urban Garden Task Force, the Planning and Zoning Commission, City Staff and the City Council pertaining to the issue of urban gardening.

"The task force recommendation will be placed on the next earliest Commission agenda, which we anticipate to be Oct. 8. There will also be a recommendation from staff, which may vary from the task force recommendation. The recommendations of Commission, the task force and staff will all be forwarded to Council for their consideration and approval." Rodnstad wrote. "We will not know when it will go to Council until Commission makes their recommendation. There is always the possibility Council could refer it to the Plans and Policies or Community Involvement Committee, but I hope there will be a consensus between the Commission, task force and staff so that Council has something they are willing to adopt without further study and lengthy debate."

When the task force meeting for September 1 was postponed, it was resceduled for September 8, and an additional meeting was scheduled for September 22. The agendas for those meetings did not include any discussion regarding the formation of another group to study broader or more long term goals related to urban gardens in the City of Springfield.

*Re: Shermer's summation that other members of the urban garden task force displayed negative reactions to Chadwick's contributions to the task force, it should be noted that Shermer's impression of other task force members involved his opinion. I, too, have an opinion regarding the reactions in the room that night but, it isn't particularly pertinent to the report.

Past "JackeHammer" entries and articles related to the issue of urban gardening in the City of Springfield, in the order they were published:

Bill Allows City to Propose Gardening Regulations in Residential Areas of Springfield

The Garden Plot Thickens...or not?

Breaking: City Planning Staff Recommending Zoning Amendments Defining "Urban Gardens" be Tabled

Missouri House of Representatives Addresses Springfield Urban Garden Questions

The City of Springfield Could be an Innovative Urban Garden Leader

Urban Garden Task Force Selection Process

Urban Garden Task Force Considers the Pros and Cons of Retail Produce Sales in Residential Neighborhoods

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

Also see:

busplunge: HEY! Get Out Of My Garden

busplunge: About This Garden Thing....

busplunge: Mary, Mary, How Does Your Garden Grow?

busplunge: "Urban Garden Task Force Considers the Pros and Cons of Retail Produce Sales in Residential Neighborhoods"


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