Published: Nov 08, 2012 03:54 PM
Modified: Nov 20, 2012 07:07 PM
Durham planners moved “quick-fix” rules for urban farming closer to approval last week, with assurances they’ll have more fixing to do – some quick and some not so.
“We’d like to bring this to closure,” said Planning Director Steve Medlin said, “but ... ”
Signs, coffee, compost and fish were points of contention as the Joint City-County Planning Committee reviewed the proposed new rules for commercial crop production and farmers’ markets ( bit.ly/Oz8GFv
The original rules had already been revised after the planning committee and a public meeting in early October, said senior planner Michael Stock. The revisions
• Extended farmers’ market operating hours to allow for setup and takedown
• Liberalized markets’ permanent-sign rules
• Dropped a requirement for on-site parking at farms less than an acre
• Dropped a requirement for growers to get minor special-use permits to sell produce at their farms
• Eliminated a distinction between “commercial crop production” and “community gardens”
During last week’s meeting, though, Kathryn Spann of the South Durham Farmers’ Market board worried the ordinance’s wording would prohibit the market’s sales of crafts, coffee and baked-goods not produced by farmers. Those “really contribute to the vitality of a farmers’ market,” she said.
County Commissioner Ellen Reckhow was concerned that signs for produce vendors setting up on commercial property would have to abide by “common signage plans” – to aesthetically blend with signs for stores, restaurants or offices on the site.
Kevin Hamak, a landscape architect and aspiring farmer, objected to a rule requiring on-site parking for sales at small sites with permanent sales buildings. He also objected to the rules banning fish-raising, or “aquaponics,” in most city zoning districts and prohibiting compost sales.
“We need to look at all our potential revenue streams,” Hamak said.
Sign rules and craft sales could be dealt with, Medlin said. Permanent sales buildings and selling compost in residential districts would create regulatory and enforcement headaches, while fish-farming is beyond the scope of what the ordinance is meant to do, he said.‘Quick fix’
City officials, including Mayor Bill Bell, told planners last spring to look at tweaking the zoning laws to allow for commercial crop production and encourage farmers’ marketing in town.
“When this issue first came forward,” he said, “we felt we could do a fairly quick fix ... to allow for urban crop production.
“That’s what we told you we would do,” Medlin said. The new rules “will actually allow for urban agriculture to exist. Will it allow for the full breadth of urban agriculture? No.”
At some time, Medlin said, planners could “come back and take a more holistic evaluation. ... We don’t have the capacity at this point to spend time and resources in evaluating.” Just to do the “quick fix” required planners to put off other projects already on their to-do lists, he said.
Reckhow pointed out that the rules need to define “aquaponics.”
With the understanding that revisions would be made to accommodate signage, sales and definitions, the Joint City-County Planning Committee voted to send the farm bill on its way.
Its next stop? The citizens’ advisory Durham Planning Commission, probably next year.