From goats to food buying clubs, new rules considered
By Lee Perlman/ The Portland Observer
A growing demand for raising livestock on residential properties and growing urban gardens for food buying clubs and farmers markets has the city of Portland considering new rules to make urban farming in the city more viable.
The Bureau of Planning and Sustainability is looking at changing city codes relating to market gardens, community gardens, food-buying clubs, farmers markets and urban livestock. As planner Julia Gisler explained to the bureau’s commission last month, there’s strong support that these activities are essentially positive. However, city officials are also considering the potential negative impacts they may have on neighbors, and the degree to which regulation may be necessary.
Market gardens produce food intended to be sold. Examples include the Fargo Farm Forest at North Williams Avenue and Fargo Street and Ariadne’s Garden in the adjacent Boise Neighborhood. Currently, the codes governing the production of food for sale are generally considered large-scale agriculture enterprises and are the rules are restrictive. But such operations are allowed by right on parcels designated as open space, in employment and industrial zones, and in the large lots in residential zones such as Forest Park.
A conditional use permit that requires a public review is required in some commercial and residential zones. But the farming is generally prohibited in single family and multi-family zones.
The new rules would allow such gardens by right in residential zones on plots up to 5,000 square feet.
“We’re getting some push back that that’s too small,” Gisler said.
A major issue is whether growers should be allowed to sell the produce on-site in residential neighborhoods. Commission member Karen Fischer-Gray echoed those concerns.
“I’m not sure how I’d feel if someone was proposing to sell food across from my house,” she said.
Community gardens allow vegetable growers to rent garden plots. Many are operated by the Portland Bureau of Parks and Recreation, but there are independent ventures such as the Urban League’s Urban Harvest Garden.
“Different types of gardens are cropping up,” planner Steven Cohen said.
Commission member Howard Shapiro said marketing produce from local garden plots have “a real connection to 20 minute neighborhoods,” an ideal whereby people can reach most basic needs and services with a 20 minute walk from home. “This is less about food and more about the social experience” of interacting with other gardeners, he said.
There are currently no code regulations that specifically address the selling of produce from community gardens. Also not addressed directly, are farmers markets. Currently institutions such as churches or schools must undergo a land use process to host a farmers market.
Gisler and other staff questioned whether the size of a market should be a factor in the regulations, and whether there should be a limit on what is sold. Currently, Gisler said, “Markets do a good job of policing themselves” to ensure that only the grower, or his or her agent can sell at the market.
Commission member Michelle Rudd asked, to what extent should food products such as bread or jam be sold, or whether the selling of crafts should be allowed. Commission chair Andre Baugh asked about curbside food stands.
Food buying clubs buy produce or other food products in bulk, then distribute them to members, resulting in cost savings and, often, better quality. The act of distributing the food has sometimes generated complaints from neighbors. In some cases, buying clubs have been forced out of existence. Once again, this activity is not directly addressed in city regulations.
Currently any combination of three pigmy goats, chickens, ducks or rabbits are allowed by right in residential zones. Any number of livestock beyond three requires a conditional use permit, as does any number of horses, cows, turkeys, geese, burros or sheep.
To have a bee hive on a residential property, an owner must obtain written permission from every neighbor within 150 feet of the property. Advocates of urban agriculture have argued that these limits, especially the one on bees, are too restrictive. City officials say some growers are frustrated that one neighbor could have a veto power over what others think is a good idea. But on the other hand, if you’re allergic to bee stings, you may want some control over what happens next door to you.
Commission member Gary Oxman commented, “Over and over I heard, ‘There are no regulations for this.’ Is that bad? Are there problems? As a career bureaucrat I get nervous about locking in on the regulatory path.”
Planner Jessica Richman replied that some of these farming activities have the potential to increase auto traffic in residential areas, often a source of complaints. “We want to, for once, get ahead of that load of complaints,” she said.