Updates on cases, laws, and other topics of interest to local governments

Subscribe by Email

Enter your Email:
Preview | Powered by FeedBlitz

Subscribe in a Reader

Follow Municipal Minute on Twitter


Blog comments do not reflect the views or opinions of the Author or Ancel Glink. Some of the content may be considered attorney advertising material under the applicable rules of certain states. Prior results do not guarantee a similar outcome. Please read our full disclaimer

Thursday, October 20, 2011

Municipal Regulation of Urban Agriculture

Urban agriculture has taken on a new life recently, driven by an emphasis on local and organic food, as well as the economic downturn.  Small vegetable gardens in the back yard are rarely a cause for concern.  But, what if an owner replaces lawns with row after row of crops?  What if that same owner sells the crops at the local farmers' market?  Finally, what if a property owner decides to raise chickens, goats, or other livestock?  Are these agricultural uses consistent with a municipality's existing zoning regulations? 

Municipalities are addressing the zoning issue in a variety of ways.  Some municipalities have cited property owners for illegal agricultural uses in a residential district.  For example, DeKalb County, Georgia cited a property owner for growing too many vegetables on his two-acre residential lot.  The issue centered on the owner's sale of the crops at the farmers' market, turning this otherwise lawful use into an illegal commercial use.  The owner was fined $5,000, but eventually was successful in rezoning his property to allow the commercial agricultural use.  Similarly, Lee County, Florida cited a property owner for keeping 10 chickens on a residential property.  In Hollywood, Florida, a lawsuit was filed by a property owner challenging the legality of his neighbor keeping 15 chickens on the property. 

Other communities have amended their zoning ordinances to allow limited agricultural uses in residential zoning districts.  Denver, Colorado enacted an ordinance that allows residents to keep chickens and goats.  Northbrook, Illinois amended its zoning ordinance to allow front yard vegetable gardens.  The City Council in Naperville, Illinois declined to amend its zoning ordinance to require permits for chicken coops and to establish a 25-foot distance between a chicken coop and any neighboring home.   Chicago amended its zoning code earlier this year to expressly authorize urban farming of fruits, vegetables, and fish.

What does this mean for local governments?  As an initial matter, the municipality should determine its position on urban agriculture.  Are vegetable gardens acceptable but not the commercial sale of crops?  Does a municipality want to allow livestock in residential districts?  Should a municipality impose lot size or locational restrictions on urban agricultural uses?  Once a municipality has identified the scope of acceptable agricultural uses, then it should examine its existing zoning regulations to determine whether amendments are necessary.  A municipality should be prepared for citizen opposition to any proposal to expand agricultural uses involving livestock or other animals (chickens, bees, goats) in residential zones. 


Post a Comment