City Steps Toward Urban Farming
Planners Propose Adding Permit For Business Gardens
Posted: January 11, 2013
HARRISONBURG — The Harrisonburg Planning Commission set the ball rolling Wednesday for a change to the city’s zoning code that would allow urban farmers to profit from their efforts.
The change would permit homeowners and renters to acquire a home-occupation permit for a so-called business garden, which would be a new term in the Harrisonburg zoning code.
While the commission didn’t vote on the matter Wednesday, members expressed support for the amendment and are scheduled to vote on it during the panel’s next meeting.
That support, in effect, helped to move along city microgardening. The national movement made its official local debut last year when two James Madison University students, Sam Frere and Dan Warren, attempted to operate a community-supported agriculture program from their home on Collicello Street.
A CSA occurs when individuals or groups pledge financial support to a farm, often before harvest, and receive a portion of the crops each week during the season.
After Frere and Warren realized they couldn’t legally profit from their produce, they worked with planning staff to craft a way to change that fact for all city residents.
The first attempt was shot down in mid-December. The commission voted to drop a proposal to include horticultural uses in the home occupation definition.
Planning staff shifted the language from horticultural uses to business gardens after investigating ways other jurisdictions across the nation have tackled the issue.
The students weren’t at the meeting Wednesday and didn’t respond to requests for comment Thursday.
To retain a neighborhood’s residential character, the commission is recommending that the amendment allow urban gardeners to profit from produce grown on an area up to half the size of an entire lot. Residents also could sell fruits and vegetables grown in a basement or on the roof.
Plants would have to be 5 feet from the property lines unless the area is fenced.
Just like any other home business, all permit holders would have to reside on the lot where they conduct the business or an adjoining lot, refrain from advertising on-site and make all transactions off-site.
The business gardens would not be exempt from the city’s tall grass and weeds ordinance. Also, all compost on the lot must be used only for on-site maintenance, not collected for sale.
The change would only affect residential areas and central business districts, said city planner Adam Fletcher.
The commission will hold a public hearing and decide whether to recommend Harrisonburg City Council approve the amendment on Feb. 13.
Council will vote on the measure March 12 and it could go into effect as early as March 26 if approved.
Contact Candace Sipos at 574-6275 or email@example.com