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City Council to take up battle over Urban Farms Ordinance

Thursday, October 17, 2013 by Elizabeth Pagano

A fight over revisions to the city’s Urban Farm Ordinance has made its way to City Council, but with a postponement looming, that fight may not be over quite yet.


Opponents to ordinance changes are calling for a postponement, which they are likely to get, unless City Council breaks from the long-standing understanding that each side of an issue gets one postponement as a matter of course. It remains unclear how long that postponement will be.


Springfield Farm’s Paula Foore told In Fact Daily that she hopes there is some resolution soon.


“I think the situation is escalating to a point that is not really helpful to anyone,” said Foore. “It’s getting more contentious.”


“I’m not sure that by postponing it we would make any headway. So we just want to get back to farming. As a civilian, this has been really daunting. We’re ready for it to be over with,” said Foore. “I feel a little bit targeted for an alternative political agenda, but I guess that’s how things work.”


Critics of the ordinance cite concerns about commercializing East Side neighborhoods and worry that the way that the ordinance is currently written jeopardizes single-family zoning, and is only serving to accelerate gentrification in a rapidly-gentrifying area. Though urban farm advocates stress the importance of local produce in what they classify as a food desert, those who are concerned about the rewrite note that selling food to upscale restaurants and offering pricey cooking classes is not solving food access issues in East Austin.


Urban farm supporters have been gathering the troops as well, getting the word out through local pizza boxes, posters, a website, and showing up en masse to speak in favor of the farms and what they bring to the city.


Though most will probably support a postponement, no City Council office that In Fact Daily spoke with seemed terribly keen on the idea of sending it back through the Planning Commission. This idea was supported in a minority opinion penned by Planning Commissioner Richard Hatfield.


Hatfield was the lone vote against the ordinance on the commission.


In his minority opinion Hatfield cited concern that the stakeholder process was insufficient, and led to a recommendation from the Sustainable Food Policy Board that “is heavily slanted to reflect the desires of four of the existing 30 urban farms’ needs rather than achieving a balance between the desires of approximately 30 of the existing urban farmers and the concerns of the surrounding neighborhoods. We need an ordinance that is not just to legitimize four urban farms, but that also reflects the potential impact of the proliferation of all farms in a city of over 800,000 that is expected to continue to grow in the years ahead.”


Hatfield also cites ongoing concern about processing and composting of animals on urban farms. Such activity at HausBar Farms remains on hold while discussions about the ordinance takes place.


Dorsey Barger of HausBar Farm explains that though complaints about the smell from the farm were only triggered by the compost getting out of balance – not the processing itself – the farm will be using a commercial composting system in the future as a compromise with the neighborhood.


While the conflict over the ordinance rewrite gathers steam, Austinites can be assured that at least one issue has been laid to rest. Concerns raised by Austin resident Sharon Blythe that the city would be utilizing recently-acquired cemeteries for farming were addressed by Planning and Development Review’s Jerry Rusthoven at the Planning Commission meeting.


Rusthoven explained that scenario was not possible. He also said it was creepy.

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