The Law Center and its partner organizations have launched a campaign to advocate for healthier foods and greener spaces in Philadelphia.
UPDATE: Bill 120917 Will Be Amended – Preserving The New Zoning Code And Allowing Community Gardens And Market Farms As A Matter Of Right!
The Campaign is thrilled to announce its first victory! After consulting with Council President and other councilmembers who had heard from constituents voicing their concerns about the Bill, Councilman O’Neil released a statement that he will amend Bill 120917 on January 24th. Bill 120917, which would have placed 20% of existing gardens and farms at risk, will be amended to allow community gardens and market or community supported farms as a matter of right, just as they would have been otherwise permitted under the new zoning code.
This is an incredible victory for community gardens and farms as well as the Philadelphia community as a whole. The Campaign is extremely grateful for individuals and organizations alike joining together. Philadelphians will continue to strive toward obtaining enhanced food access and providing structures through which communities can successfully reclaim land from blight thanks to the efforts of community members and council members coming together.
Please take this time to thank your district council member and the at-large members for their support in obtaining this crucial amendment. Click here for their contact information. And, show your support of the amendment at City Council Chambers on January 24th. The Campaign for Healthier Foods and Greener Spaces will continue this momentum forward!
- Read the Campaign’s press release here.
- View a PDF of the Talking Points here.
- Visit the Campaign’s Facebook page here.
Community gardens and market farms help provide Philadelphia with healthier food and greener spaces
Community gardens and market farms promote long-term health, safety, welfare, and sustainability of our neighborhoods. Gardens and farms:
- Create opportunities for leadership development, job training, and intergenerational community building
- Promote self reliance and healthy, active lifestyles that combat diabetes and obesity
- Build safer, healthier, and greener environments in our most blighted areas
- Improve access to and consumption of healthy, affordable, and culturally appropriate food (people who grow food are more likely to eat it!)
- Provide critical resources for environmental stewardship and stormwater management
Want to learn more about why amending Bill 120917 to allow community gardens and market farms as a matter of right is so important?
Community gardens are not the problem. Gardening and farming do not compete with other allowable uses in our neighborhoods – the alternative is nonuse – more vacant lots and more blight.
Bill 120917 Threatened A Sustainable Philadelphia
In November, Councilman Brian O’Neill introduced Council Bill 120917, which sought to alter Philadelphia’s new zoning code by restricting and prohibiting several uses in “commercial mixed use districts” (zoned CMX-2 and 2.5). The bill would have required all market farms and community gardens on CMX-2 to obtain a “special exception.” Bill 120917 would have created new and unnecessary barriers to gardening and farming in Philadelphia, putting at least twenty percent of existent garden and farm parcels at risk of fines and sanctions.
This Bill Would Have Hurt Market Farms and Community Gardens
Bill 120917 would have applied to one third of all commercial land in the City (CMX-2). It could have negatively affected twenty percent of parcels where Philadelphians are currently gardening. Since this bill was considered a “pending ordinance,” it had already gone into effect, even before the full Council vote, meaning twenty percent of Philadelphia’s market farms and community gardens were being placed at risk.
In Philadelphia, gardens have long been important social and cultural spaces and the cornerstone of vacant land stewardship. If this bill had succeeded, many people from youths to and seniors engaged in projects that are national models would have suddenly found their work in jeopardy.
This Bill Would Have Made Philadelphia Less Sustainable
Philadelphia strives to be the “Greenest City” in the country, and our nationally acclaimed Greenworks goals call for increasing access to healthy food and green space. But Bill 120917 did the opposite, creating obstacles to greener and healthier communities just when the City and countless residents and community-based organizations are working to increase access to fresh, local food and create innovative solutions to our vacant land problem.
As cities across the nation look for ways to support urban agriculture, this bill moved against the tide of progress and threatens Philadelphia’s position as a leader in this area.
Sufficient Safeguards Are Already In Place & Bill 120917 Would Undermine Philadelphia’s Newly Reformed Zoning Code
After years of work, Philadelphia’s new zoning code is receiving national acclaim as a model of good government. In fact, the American Planning Association has just announced that Philadelphia’s Integrated Planning and Zoning Process will receive the APA’s 2013 National Planning Excellence Award for a Best Practice.
Existing safeguards are already in place under the new zoning code.
In order to garden on a vacant parcel, a community group must determine the owner and obtain permission from the owner:
- If the owner is a city agency, to obtain a license or lease, or to acquire title, the garden group must meet a set of criteria being developed by the Philadelphia Redevelopment Authority and the Mayor’s Office of Sustainability. This will include demonstrating community stakeholder support.
- For a lease of longer than one year, the group must also obtain a letter of support from the district councilperson and the transaction must be passed by ordinance.
- Once permission is obtained, a garden group also must obtain a use registration permit from the Department of Licensing and Inspections. This requires at least a $125 per parcel one-time fee.
- The new zoning code contains additional safeguards to prevent any negative impacts on neighbors. Safeguards include (1) requiring fences around community farms that are adjacent to a residential zoning district; (2) refuse and compost bins must be rodent resistant and refuse must be removed once a week; (3) storage areas for tools must be enclosed; and (4) no outdoor work activity that involves power equipment may occur between sunset and sunrise.
Requiring Special Exceptions Would Hinder Gardens and Farms
- Starting in August of 2012, the new zoning code allowed community gardens and market farms in CMX-2 and 2.5 by right, while building in parameters to prevent negative impacts on neighbors. It created a structure under which gardens and farms could finally be in compliance.
- To acquire a special exception, an applicant must apply and pay a fee to the Zoning Board of Adjustment and meet additional requirements (described below).
- A minimum $100 application fee (increases with footage and structures). If it is a permitted use, then a permit is issued as a matter of right (total charged is $125). But if it is not permitted, then the Department of Licensing & Inspections will refer for a special exception.
- A special exception requires a $250 appeal fee (an additional $625 to expedite if needed)
- Additional Process: After filing an appeal, the applicant must
- Contact Registered Community Organizations within 7 days to obtain a support letter;
- Post notice on-site for 21 days;
- Provide a floor plan drawn to scale with a copy of the deed or lease;
- Provide lease or deed;
- Provide tax certification
- Additional fees and requirements apply for incorporated entities.
- At the hearing, an applicant must demonstrate that the proposed use is consistent with the zoning code and any applicable standards for the use. If there is any testimony at the hearing from the community that the impacts would be more than normally expected from that use, the applicant must provide evidence to overcome such testimony.
- Community building is an essential component of gardening and farming throughout Philadelphia. And the zoning code builds in parameters to prevent negative impacts on neighbors. The special exception process does not add value; it just foists administrative burden, time, and expense on already overburdened community groups.
Read the Law Center’s testimony opposing the amendments to the new zoning code during the December 4, 2012 hearing before the City Council Committee on Rules.
Find out the zoning category for your garden or farm or other use.
Read the full text of the bill.
- Grid: Success! Zoning bill will be amended to protect urban gardens and farms
- Newsworks: Proposed changes to brand-new Philly zoning code face council showdown
- Philly.com: Victory for the city’s gardeners and farmers
- Philly.com: And you thought gardening was a passive sport
- Plan Philly: Councilman O’Neil’s amendments hits community gardens
- Grist: From bike shares to urban farms, Philadelphia is on the rise
- Next Great City: A New Zoning Code, and a New Era for Urban Agriculture in Philly
- Daily News Editorial: Twilight Zone – Already, some on Council messing with zoning reform
- Plan Philly: O’Neill zoning amendments to commercial corridors would affect his district least of all
- DAGspace: Good zoning should not be a matter of privilege
- Plan Philly: Council support for O’Neill’s zoning changes still iffy
Join the following organizations in support of the Campaign for Healthier Foods and Greener Spaces:
- African American United Fund
- East Park Revitalization Alliance
- Emerald Street Urban Farm
- Farm to City
- Federation of Neighborhood Centers
- Friends of Saint Bernard Community Garden
- Guild House West
- HIAS PA
- Historic Fair Hill, Inc.
- Landmarks’ Grumblethorpe Historic House and Garden
- Manton Street Park & Community Garden
- Merchants Fund
- Mill Creek Farm
- Neighborhood Gardens Association
- Norris Square Neighborhood Project
- Occupy Vacant Lots
- Overbrook Environmental Education Center
- Pedal Co-op
- Pennsylvania Horticultural Society
- Philadelphia Orchard Project
- Philadelphia Seed Exchange
- Philly Earth
- Philly Electric WheelsPhilly Food Forests
- Public Interest Law Center of Philadelphia
- Walnut Hill Community Farm
- Weavers Way
- Weavers Way Community Programs
- Wyck Historic House, Garden, and Farm
- Urban Tree Connection
- Village of Arts and Humanities