Urban agriculture taking root in Maplewood

Several new urban agriculture policy changes will go into effect in Maplewood June 20 following unanimous June 11 city council votes. 

Together, the changes clear the way for a variety of urban agriculture practices to be done in Maplewood, such as beekeeping, aquaponics and front yard gardening.

“We are doing this because it helps meet our 2040 Comprehensive Plan, which is to create a healthy, walkable community by providing healthy food options and accessibility to all people regardless of income,” City Manager Melinda Coleman said at the meeting.

Environmental Planner Shann Finwall noted that in an effort to meet that goal, the Environmental and Natural Resources Commission conducted an urban agricultural zoning review over the past two years to find ways to remove barriers and promote local food in all zoning districts. 

The commission’s recommendations, most of which were made into policy June 11, came from the review as well as input from the Planning Commission.

 

Opposing sides of the agriculture fence

A few policy changes were discussed by the council in more detail than others: front yard produce gardens and the amount of neighbor consent required to keep agriculture animals.

The Planning Commission, which reviewed the environmental commission’s recommendations, suggested council approval of all of the urban agriculture ordinances except front yard gardening.

“The main concern there was due to concerns about aesthetics and using the entire front yard for crop agriculture,” Finwall said.

According to Planning Commission member John Eads, the issue some commissioners wrestled with was the idea of “how much is too much?” referring to the percentage of the front yard that could be used for produce gardens.

Council member Kathleen Juenemann noted that some of the supposedly manicured lawns in Maplewood look pretty bad, with more dirt than grass, and some people would be better off with a front yard garden if they will take care of it.

“If you drive through some of the other cities, there are a lot of people who don’t want manicured lawns anymore,” Juenemann said. “I think people want their yards to be more functional.”

Mayor Nora Slawik pointed out that when the council considers policies like these, members also have to consider the staff time required to enforce them.

In the end, the council voted unanimously to allow front yard produce gardens in all residential zoning districts with no limitation on the percentage of the yard that can be garden.

 

Neighbor consent

The amount of neighbor consent required to obtain a permit for agriculture animals was the only environmental commission recommendation the council did not adopt in its entirety.

The environmental commission recommended that as long as a simple majority of neighbors consent, the permits should be granted. This would be a change from the 100 percent required to obtain a chicken permit. 

An environmental commissioner explained that the change was to eliminate the chances of one neighbor’s dissent ruining someone’s possibility to have agriculture animals.

Neighbor approval is also a condition for obtaining other poultry permits and permits for the temporary keeping of goats and sheep, two new ordinances that were on the table during the meeting.

Council member Marylee Abrams said that the change “is a really big jump.”

“I think we’re doing this in 2018 and there are many people in our community who bought their homes and didn’t envision that there would be a chicken coop next door and didn’t envision that there would be a herd of goats next door,” she said.

Juenemann reiterated that the recommended change stemmed from the idea that one neighbor’s veto should not be able to stand in the way of someone obtaining an agriculture animal permit.

The council compromised, agreeing to award residents agriculture animal permits so long as 60 percent of neighbors give their consent.

 

Other ordinance changes 

Since 2011, residents could keep up to 10 chickens with a permit. Now, residents are allowed to keep other types of poultry, such as quail and pheasant.

Finwall explained that the purpose of expanding the allowed variety of poultry is to be accommodating to a variety of ethnic groups and because residents have expressed interest in raising other kids of birds.

Poultry can now be kept on properties in other zones than just single family residential, a policy that allows schools and churches to raise poultry for educational purposes.

Maplewood did not have an ordinance on beekeeping before June 11. Now beekeeping is allowed, though there are a number of hive placement requirements that must be met.

Also, aquaponics and aquaculture systems are now allowed in light and heavy manufacturing zoning districts.

Goats and sheep can now be kept in residential districts, though only for a maximum of 60 days and only for the purpose of vegetative management, such as removal of buckthorn. 

Maplewood had no ordinances on community and market gardens or urban farms before June 11. Now, community and market gardens that are an acre or smaller are allowed in all zoning districts and those that are larger than an acre are allowed with a conditional use permit.

Urban farms are now allowed on park land if they meet the city’s Park Master Plan. Urban farms are also allowed in all other zoning districts with conditional use permits.

Direct to consumer sales, such as farm stands, farmers’ markets and food trucks are now allowed in all commercial zoning districts for up to four months with a permit. Previously, they were allowed in the business commercial and light and heavy manufacturing zoning districts.

 

– Aundrea Kinney can be reached at 651-748-7822 or akinney@lillienews.com

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