Consultant: Erie Urban Farming Plan Must Engage Community

Consultant: Erie Urban Farming Plan Must Engage Community

Consultant: Erie Urban Farming Plan Must Engage Community

 Charles Buki is the founder and principal of Alexandria, Virginia-based consulting firm CZB, which authored the city of Erie's comprehensive development plan. [KEVIN FLOWERS/ERIE TIMES-NEWS]

Charles Buki is the founder and principal of Alexandria, Virginia-based consulting firm CZB, which authored the city of Erie's comprehensive development plan. [KEVIN FLOWERS/ERIE TIMES-NEWS]

Posted Apr 9, 2017 at 2:00 AM

Charles Buki, whose firm authored the city’s comprehensive development plan, says urban agriculture could be a good fit for Erie with planning and citizen input.

By Kevin Flowers 

Charles Buki believes the practice known nationwide as urban farming could be a good fit for Erie — if several important things happen.

The city’s zoning rules must clarify and outline what urban agriculture is and where it is allowed.

There should be clearly defined goals, such as creating green space, reducing blight, providing education and growing healthy foods for inner-city residents.

And city officials, community groups and citizens must collectively discuss the issue, including how best to develop urban farming management plans and what funding needs to be secured.

Public meeting May 3

The Erie Planning Commission's recommendations regarding zoning changes that would permit or clarify the rules for small crop farming in the city on residential properties and vacant lots, particularly in targeted areas, will be the subject of a May 3 public hearing in the Bagnoni Council Chambers at Erie City Hall, 626 State St.

The meeting will begin at 9:30 a.m.

The Planning Commission's recommendations include:

•Defining "urban garden, " "market garden" and "farm stand" in city zoning ordinances, and making them permitted uses within areas of the city now zoned medium density residential, high density residential and residential/limited business.

•Creating a specific zoning ordinance section that permits urban gardens on vacant lots in medium density residential, high density residential and residential/limited business areas, and making market gardens a "special exception" on vacant lots on those same districts.

•Requiring fences around urban gardens and urban markets.

•Including rules governing "accessory structures" associated with urban farming, and limiting them to 100 square feet in size. A storage shed would be an example of an accessory structure.

•Stipulations on how and where produce from urban farming can be sold; the proximity of urban agriculture sites to one-family and two-family houses; signs, traffic volumes, parking and compost use in those areas; and maintenance.

City Council must approve the zoning changes before they can take effect.

“Engage the community and help residents understand what’s possible,” said Buki, the founder and principal consultant at Alexandria, Virginia-based CZB, the consulting firm that authored Erie Refocused, the city’s first comprehensive development plan in decades.

Some local officials believe that creating an urban agriculture framework complements that plan, which addresses Erie’s future needs in terms of transportation, housing, land use, economic development and other areas, to combat decades of systematic decline.

Advocates say urban agriculture provides ways to effectively reuse properties that have been long vacant, and it can help reduce crime, promote neighborhood unity, provide education and job-training opportunities and increase access to healthy foods for city residents.

Buki this past said urban agriculture can benefit and help improve Erie, if the plan is forged carefully and includes significant community input.

“The interim goals can be interim banking of land until demand returns, interim beauty, interim stability,” Buki said, adding that “right-sizing the city” and “durable beautification” should also be key objectives.

“If you actually get food, too,” Buki said, “all the better.”

Erie City Council plans to launch that public engagement soon.

Council has scheduled a May 3 public hearing at Erie City Hall regarding a series of proposed amendments to city zoning ordinances that would permit or clarify the rules for small-crop farming on residential properties and vacant lots.

The zoning changes, right now, focus on a targeted area that includes the city’s east and west bayfront neighborhoods; Little Italy, on the city’s west side; and the areas near Pulaski Park, at East 10th Street and Hess Avenue, and the Land Lighthouse at the foot of Lighthouse Street.

The targeted areas are specified because they include large numbers of vacant property or dilapidated housing stock.

Matthew Puz, the city’s zoning officer, said the zoning changes are necessary because urban farming is only permitted in areas of the city zoned for light manufacturing, and that excludes many residential neighborhoods.

City Council must approve the zoning changes before they can take effect. The public meeting will give residents a chance to learn more about urban farming from city officials, and speak for or against the proposed changes.

“Different neighborhoods have already been doing this on certain lots,” said City Councilman David Brennan, who formally requested that the city examine the urban agriculture-related zoning changes. “Opening the door for this could help the city solve a lot of its current issues.”

Detroit, Boston, Portland, Cleveland, and Austin, Texas, are among cities that have revamped zoning rules or created new ones to encourage the production of local food, community gardens, farmers markets, food trucks, small urban growers and local businesses as a way of stabilizing neighborhoods.

A nonprofit in Detroit, the Michigan Urban Farming Initiative, created a 2-acre urban farm, 200-tree fruit orchard, children’s sensory garden, water harvesting cistern and more in Detroit’s lower North End that grows more than 300 produce varieties and provides fresh vegetables, free of charge, to about 2,000 city households, churches, food pantries and others in that area.

“Thoughtful initiatives like this have a large impact in community revitalization,” Katharine Czarnecki, the Michigan Economic Development Corporation’s vice president of community development, said of the nonprofit’s work in a recent news release.

Brennan said he believes urban agriculture will be an effective tool to “reuse a lot of these vacant properties, that’s in line with the comprehensive plan recommendations. And it can help stabilize a lot of these neighborhoods.”

Buki said that ideally the city should look to develop three large parcels of vacant property “downzoned into green space” for urban farming.

“Then you are right-sizing land at a volume that can stabilize land prices,” Buki said. “Then you are getting a critical mass suitable for commercial use. ... Then you have the basis for stabilizing blight.”

Brennan has said that City Council could vote on the zoning changes as soon as the panel’s May 17 meeting.

Kevin Flowers can be reached at 870-1693 or by email. Follow him on Twitter at twitter.com/ETNflowers.

You Want Fresh? Dallas' Central Market is Growing Salad Behind The Store

You Want Fresh? Dallas' Central Market is Growing Salad Behind The Store

NYC Luxury Condo Owners Want To Play Farmer

NYC Luxury Condo Owners Want To Play Farmer