Think crops and livestock: city to trigger state urban ag law

By Joe Lambe

Want to raise a giant garden, or maybe 30 emus or llamas or ostriches or buffalo or goats? Up to 650 boiler chickens?

The city council will soon consider an ordinance to trigger use of a new state law for urban agriculture zones.

The city Urban Agricultural Zone Advisory Commission on Tuesday approved the ordinance, which is to be presented to the council Planning and Zoning committee next week.

Urban agriculture now goes far beyond community gardens and many cities plan and promote it to revive blighted areas.

Councilman Scott Wagner, who on Tuesday was acting chair of the advisory committee, called it a needed tool.

“The reality is we know there’s property out there, whether it’s vacant lots or vacant buildings, that for the foreseeable future has no chance of redevelopment,” he said.

Whether it’s raising tomatoes, bees, livestock,  fowl, fish, flowers or even making local ketchup,  the city might be able to help.

Under the proposed ordinance, property taxes on improvements to the blighted property areas could be abated for up to 25 years.

Less than one percent of their sales taxes could go to a fund used for educational agriculture programs in schools.

And the state law says growers may pay wholesale water prices for a zone, each of which will be administered by a city committee.

Wagner said city officials were talking to state legislators about changing the law to allow the sales tax money to instead go back into the zone business.

City lawyers have also determined that because a of recent court ruling it cannot provide the wholesale water.

But Wagner said the city will soon announce a program in which it will use money from late water payments to cut water costs to urban growers in the zones and elsewhere.

There are also places – such as the municipal farm that used to be the city jail – where wells could be drilled to irrigate crops, he said.

Zones must be in a vacant lot or one containing vacant structures that are blighted.

They also must be one of two other things.

One is they be located in a community with a poverty rate of 20 percent or greater or a median family income of below 80 percent of the area median family income.

The other is that they be in food deserts, areas where a third of the population (of at least 500 people) live more than a mile from a supermarket or large grocery store.

After the law is passed, Wagner said, the city will launch a campaign to explain it to those interested in starting zones.

The ordinance even allows raising up to 30 horses, presumably not to eat, but for riders.

They were a kind of rider in the law themselves. Wagner said that no one had asked for them, but they put them in just in case.

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