If you are a gardener, a lover of vegetables, a proponent of food sovereignty, or a Philly devotee, make sure you keep up with the new zoning laws that affect community gardens across the city.
Philadelphia’s urban agriculture community is reeling from 10th District Councilman Brian O’Neill’s amendments to the city zoning code. Council Bill 120917, which passed Thursday, December 13th, concerns mixed-use land classified as CMX-2 and CMX-2.5. This legal mumbo-jumbo directly affects farmers markets and gardens in the city of Philadelphia. Here’s the write-up from Philebrity, which describes the problem succintly:
What it all basically does is change the qualification for certain businesses from by-right (just get approval from L&I and you’re good to go) to special exception (you gotta get a lawyer, go through months of obtaining a referral, scheduling meetings, going to zoning adjustment hearings, and more, adding months and thousands of dollars to the opening process). All of that, just to open a community garden or a farm. In the bill’s slightly earlier form, the businesses which would also need special exceptions were prepared foods, dry cleaners, artist studios, and artisan industrial businesses. Those businesses were restored as by-right today, but the restrictions still remain for “transit stations, structured parking, moving and storage facilities, community gardens and market farms.”
Plan Philly’s Eyes on the Street compiled zoning information to show which council districts will be most affected by the new bill. Guild House West is in District 5, with a considerable amount of CMX-2 property.
The latest update from the PUFN (Philadelphia Urban Farming Network) listserv is the following from Amy Laura Cahn, a staff attorney and Skadden Fellow at the Public Interest Law Center of Philadelphia. Reach out to her through the PILCOP website or email her directly at firstname.lastname@example.org.
The good news: the amendments had been amended significantly so that the bill no longer calls for the remapping of the entire city. The other good news – O’Neill amended the bill to allow community gardens and urban farms by special exception.
The bad news: Special exceptions are no simple administrative process and will be a huge burden for folks gardening and farming. To put this in context:
· A full third of all commercial land in the City is CMX-2.
· Twenty percent of existing garden and farm parcels are CMX-2 and *are now illegal under the pending ordinance doctrine, unless they have previously obtained a variance.**
I don’t think we are anticipating immediate enforcement, but it demonstrates the vulnerability of gardens and farms
I would love to hear from those of you who are interested
- (1) working to get the word out to and mobilize stakeholders,
- (2) reaching out to council members in your district,
- (3) writing editorials or letters to the editor and
- (4) testifying in council.
The full Council vote will be 1/24, so there is so time, but we need to get started soon.
Thank you for your support of Guild House Gardens. Think about its future and the future of food access in Philadelphia this holiday season.