Birmingham: a city for urban farmers?
by Emily Lowrey • December 31, 2012 @ 7:06am
Next week, the city is hosting a town hall meeting that might just pave the way for one of the most progressive sets of changes we see in Birmingham during our lifetimes - the beginning implementation of components of Birmingham’s Comprehensive Plan.
The community discussion on January 9th is centered on changing the city ordinance to expand urban farming within the Birmingham city limits, but community gardens like 32nd Street and West End Community Gardens already exist in Birmingham. Aside from residents finally being allowed to keep chicken coops and aviaries (bees) like our neighbors across the metro region, the ordinance itself doesn’t change much besides perhaps providing some further clarification around plot use.
If passed in its current form, the zoning ordinance would allow for private owners to turn vacant lots into community gardens with some direction from the city on how the gardens would be run by a collective group - be that a group of neighbors, a Neighborhood Association or a nonprofit.
In the city’s draft plan for the ordinance change, the Department of Planning, Engineering and Draft Permits defines urban agriculture as “the growing and distributing of food for urban markets in close proximity to where people live.” While the definition needs to be expanded (it doesn’t touch on the apiaries, chicken coops and community gardens included in the plan that have nothing to do with urban markets), the plan itself is in a state of flux because of the lengthy process one must go through to gain ownership of a plot of land owned by the state.
Starting this past May, over 200 homes were demolished in Ensley, which would make the community a prime candidate for urban farming except that the lots are still owned by the state of Alabama so the city cannot permit usage.
As part of the city of Birmingham’s master planning process, which is still underway, two initiatives included a process to expedite the control of title for abandoned and tax delinquent property and an urban agriculture innovation district in Ensley.
The city of Birmingham has over 1,700 additional structures on the demo list with another 8,000 structures that have yet to be added to the database. Also included in the plan under the Community Renewal and Revitalization category was an initiative to build a comprehensive property database to include ownership information, taxes, violations and other key information.
There’s also no clarification on the coordinating agencies involved in the initiative like those underway in San Francisco as they plan for urban farming.
The town hall meeting will take place on Wednesday, January 9th at 8:30 a.m. in the City Council Chamber on the 3rd floor of Birmingham City Hall. The address is 710 20th St. N. in Birmingham. If you cannot attend the meeting but would still like to have your concerns known, email Tim Gambral in the city’s planning office at email@example.com.
Representatives from the city, Jones Valley Urban Farm and other key stakeholders could not be reached over the holidays. We’ll update the article as soon as they are available for comment.
A representative of the city provided this list of highlights from the proposed zoning ordinance change:
1. In the “definitions” section, definitions are proposed to be added for the following: cold frame, community garden, greenhouse/hoophouse, market manager, outdoor markets (farmers market, public market, flea market), outdoor urban farm, indoor urban farm.
2. Community Gardens are proposed to be an allowed use in all residential zoning classifications and most commercial and industrial zoning classifications.
3. Farmers Markets are proposed to be an allowed use in most commercial and industrial zoning classifications. Also, Farmers Markets are proposed to be an allowed use on lots where the primary use is a school, place of worship, a public park (provided that the City of Birmingham School Board or Park and Recreation Board has given written permission allowing the Market to occur on their property) or on an abutting lot that is owned by one of the aforementioned primary uses.
4. Apiaries (places where bees are kept for their honey) are proposed to be an allowed use in all residential and commercial zoning classifications and most industrial zoning classifications.
5. Public Markets are proposed to be an allowed use in most commercial and industrial zoning classifications.
6. Indoor Urban Farms are proposed to be an allowed use in some commercial zoning classifications and most industrial zoning classifications.
7. Outdoor Urban Farms are proposed to be an allowed use in most industrial zoning classifications.
8. Flea Markets are proposed to be an allowed use in most industrial zoning classifications.
9. Chicken Coops could be allowed if an applicant is granted a special exception from the Zoning Board of Adjustment.
10. Outdoor Urban Farms could be allowed in a B-2 General Business District if an applicant is granted a special exception from the Zoning Board of Adjustment (ZBA).
•For more information on chicken coops, including Mountain Brook and Homewood’s current zoning ordinances, read Christiana’s Roussel’s post.
•San Francisco’s urban farming ordinance is also in the planning stage. Access their draft documents and other information, which unlike Birmingham’s ordinance includes a list of coordinating agencies, here.
•Jones Valley Teaching Farm seeks to make Birmingham a healthier place by educating children on the value of eating healthy food. The organization’s outreach program hosted a market at Glen Iris Elementary School this past season. Read MCP’s article on Jones Valley Urban Farm or visit their website.
•Read MCP’s article from August 2012 titled “Community Gardens: An Oasis in a Food Desert,” which features 32nd Street and West Side Community Gardens.
•REV Birmingham brought on Taylor Clark as the Market Coordinator for Birmingham food projects in February of 2012.
•For more information on the city of Birmingham’s master planning process around farming and community revitalization, visit this link and click on Community Renewal and Revitalization.