Friday, October 02, 2009

P & Z Commission to Hold Public Hearing on Proposed Urban Garden Text Amendment

Task force members prompt Springfield City Council to adopt a resolution to support a policy of food, urban agricultural and energy sustainability

The Urban Garden Task Force voted unanimously to recommend a City staff prepared, proposed text amendment to the Planning and Zoning Commission (P & Z) for consideration when the task force met on September 22. The task force's approval came with one section change, reflected at Section 5-3002 (E) of the recommended amendment.

Rather than restricting hours of operation from sunrise to sunset as the draft had specified, the proposed section was changed to allow operation from 1/2 hour before sunrise until 1/2 hour after sunset. One other change to the same section allows gasoline powered equipment to operate on the same schedule. The draft text amendment originally allowed mechanical, gas and electric equipment use only from the hours of 8 a.m. to 8 p.m.

Under the proposed amendment, "Personal Gardens" and "Community Gardens" will be allowed in any and all zoning districts in Springfield. Neither will be allowed to sell produce to the public on-site.

Other than the prohibition of on-site sales, personal gardens can be cited under the nuisance ordinance of City Code for the same things for which all City residents may be cited, such as odor, noise, high weeds, grass, etc. There were no additional restrictions applied to personal gardens.

Community gardens face a few more restrictions. The owner or proprietor of the property will be required to file an application with the Director of Building Development Services but, not without reason, considering they have more potential to be a source of complaint to the neighborhoods where they will be tended than personal gardens tended by a single property owner or family. There will also be a no to minimal-cost permit required.

The proposed restrictions on Community gardens apply to: Accessory structures (not to exceed 40 percent of the lot area); placement of accessory structures; hours of operation; signage; storm water, sediment and erosion; odor emissions; high weeds and grass; compost and material storage areas; lighting; noise; vision obstruction; and parking (if cultivated area exceeds 1 acre in size).

Commercial gardens and Farmers' Markets were also defined and regulated under the proposed amendment.

Task force member Galen Chadwick took the advise of Jack Wheeler, the chair of the task force, and prepared a letter to attach to the proposed amendment for the City Council to consider.

In his letter to the City Council, Chadwick made a plea for local food sustainability.

"The food consumed by the citizens of the Springfield Economic Area, an amount in excess of 1,100 tons of food per day, is shipped and trucked to us along a fragile and globalized supply line," Chadwick wrote. "Should this delivery system be disrupted for any reason, supermarket shelves will empty within hours. The average household has roughly three days worth of food on hand. Given that less than 5% of our food is grown within the state, or within a thousand miles beyond our borders, the result of a significant disruption will be catastrophic."

Chadwick, a regional co-coordinator of the "Well-Fed Neighbor Alliance" (WFNA), proposed the City Council should consider supporting or initiating a "Food Policy Council," to create, develop and implement citywide food policy regulation.

The WFNA is a member of the Healthy Youth Partnership, a non-profit organization in St. Louis working to develop a "just and sustainable local food system" under the direction of Maggie Menefree and University of Missouri Community Food Systems director Dr. Mary Hendrickson.

Chadwick and fellow WFNA regional coordinator Ruell Chappell have been working to form the Well-Fed Neighbor Farmers' Co-op, in conjunction with area supermarkets.

Chadwick indicated the WFNA could assist the Council, if they are interested in forming a Food Policy Council.

"Should the City Council be interested in this proposal, the WFNA will arrange an informal exploratory session along with Dr. Hendrickson, regional foods experts, and other key academic and WFNA executive leaders," Chadwick wrote, before supplying Council members with contact information.

He listed potential partners in the food council as: Faith based groups, concerned individuals, farmers, community gardens, food producers, cooks, local and state governments, schools and colleges, health and nutrition experts, food advocates, food distributors, farmers' markets, and food banks/food pantries.

A second Urban Garden Task Force letter, signed by four members of the task force, supported "the concept of establishing the "Food Policy Council" as a part of the non-profit community."

"We are asking City Council to adopt a resolution to support a policy of food, urban agricultural and energy sustainability."

The four members who signed the letter endorsing the Food Policy Council and the establishment of the WFNA as a step toward their shared goal were: Earl Slavens, Urban Garden Task Force member; Chairman of the Friends of the Victory Gardens at Grand Oak Mission Gary Schafer; Melissa Millsap, Urban Roots Farm; and Curt Millsap, Millsap Farm CSA.

If this issue is of interest to you, the Planning and Zoning Commission will take public comment on Thursday, October 8, at 6:30 p.m. in the City Council Chambers.

If the P & Z Commission approves the Urban Garden Task Force's report and attached amendment, the Commission anticipates the City Council will hear first reading of a bill seeking their approval of the text amendment, and take public comment at their October 26 meeting. That would mean the Council would likely vote on the ordinance on November 9, after second reading of the bill.


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