City farming: Boston to hold community meetings on urban agriculture

Photo: urbanhabitat.org
Credit: urbanhabitat.org

Mayor Thomas Menino announced on Monday the release of draft urban agriculture zoning to support the growth of farming citywide and the start of a series of community meetings to review the recommendations.

The zoning would create what city officials describe as “clarity and predictability” regarding food growing and fish farming, as well as hen and beekeeping in the city. It also expands locations for farmers markets and farm stands, and introduces a soil safety protocol. Eleven community meetings will be held in June and July to vet the draft recommendations before the final zoning is completed. A Twitter chat is also planned for those who cannot attend a meeting in person.

“Urban agriculture is an innovative way to improve city life,” Menino said in a statement. “Farmers make good neighbors and better our communities. Growing food in city limits means better access to healthy food, while growing a sense of neighborhood unity and greening our city.”

In January 2012,  Menino launched the Article 89 zoning process. The Boston Redevelopment Authority and the Mayor’s Office of Food Initiatives held 17 public meetings with the Mayor’s Urban Agriculture Rezoning Working Group made up of farming advocates, experts and interested citizens appointed by Menino in summer 2010 to advise and guide the rezoning initiative.

Most agricultural activities are not allowed in Boston under current zoning code. By addressing a wide range of these activities, city officials argue that Article 89 will increase access to healthy food, promote community building, and help beautify neighborhoods. A copy of Article 89 is available for download on the Boston Redevelopment Authority website.

A breakdown of the zoning:

  • Urban farms: from conventional, small-scale, ground-level nonprofits to high-tech, innovative rooftop commercial farms. Article 89 will not impact community gardens or backyard gardeners.
  • Ground-level urban farms up to 10,000 square feet and roof-level farms up to 5,000 square feet would be allowed in almost all parts of the city. Larger farms would require Comprehensive Farm Review (see below).
  • Roof-level greenhouse farms would be allowed in institutional, industrial and large-scale commercial zoning districts, and require further review everywhere else.
  • Comprehensive Farm Review: Staff-level review conducted by the BRA to ensure that farms are good neighbors. CFR will be required for ground-level farms larger than 10,000 SF and roof-level farms larger than 5,000 SF, with some exceptions for farms in industrial and institutional districts. The 45-day process requires abutters to be notified and farm site plans to be reviewed by the BRA.
  • Soil Safety: Boston is a national leader in establishing a soil safety protocol for urban farms. Under the new zoning farmers would be required to place a barrier over existing soil, plant their crops in raised beds, and test the imported soil.
  • Hens and Bees: Article 89 doesn’t change where hens and bees can be kept in the city, as already defined by the existing zoning code. Any changes regarding the keeping of hens and bees would be done on a neighborhood by neighborhood basis. Article 89 defines the permissible size of beehives, coops, and the numbers of allowed hens and beehives, and other size and maintenance requirements, in zoning districts where hens and bees can already be kept.
  • Farmers markets and farm stands: allowed anywhere retail is allowed by underlying zoning, public hearing required for all other locations.
  • Hydroponics (soilless planting): possible in most zoning districts, including small-scale facilities in residential subdistricts.
  • Aquaculture (fish farming in tanks) and aquaponics (a combination of hydroponics and aquaculture): facilities up to 750 square feet will be allowed in most zoning districts, including residential districts.
  • Composting: may occupy up to 5 percent of the lot area of a farm.

Article 89 will be amended to reflect community feedback received during the neighborhood meeting process this summer. The final zoning adoption, slated for December, will require BRA board approval and Zoning Commission approval.


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