The Austin Chronicle

Urban Farm Skirmish Moves to Mediation

By Anna Toon, October 25, 2013, News

Last week's anticipated City Council vote on recommended updates to the urban farms ordinance was postponed until Nov. 21. Requested by Daniel Llanes, chair of the Govalle/Johnston Terrace Neighborhood Plan Contact Team and member of PODER – People Organized in Defense of Earth and Her Resources – a courtesy postponement is ­typically granted on first request.

Before Council voted 7-0 to delay the vote, Llanes, flanked by signs reading, "urban farm ordinance smells like profit," and "no blanket zoning," called the process of drafting the revised code "inadequate" and "heavily slanted to the desires of the four existing farms [in the neighborhood]."

However, Sustainable Food Policy Board Chair Paula McDermott, who opposed a postponement, defended the undertaking, calling it a "well-publicized and participatory stakeholder process" open to the public.

  Rather than sending the updated ordinance back to the Planning Commission, which already voted 6-1 in favor of the recommendations, Council shifted the dispute to the City Manager's office for mediation between now and Nov. 21. Likely to be facilitated by a retired state district judge, stakeholders from each side will meet and discuss specific areas of contention. Initiated by Council Member Mike Martinez, the goal is to offer a fair and mediated discussion on some of the most controversial recommendations, specifically those provisions allowing the slaughtering of chickens and rabbits for commercial sale. The review committee of the Govalle/Johnston Terrace Neighborhood Planning Area has requested no slaughtering, commercial or otherwise, of animals within the city limits, citing public safety and environmental concerns.

  Other recommendations from the neighborhood group include prohibiting farms in single family or residential zoning, and a minimum size requirement greater than one acre, possibly two. Should these recommendations make their way into code, they would stand in stark contrast to ordinances of other progressive cities across the country. Viewed by policy makers as a positive asset to a community, urban farms are typically not limited to commercial zoning. Additionally, while the neighborhood and PODER see larger farms as a safeguard, requesting a size minimum of one to two acres, other cities see this as discriminatory as those parcels of land are likely not affordable or available.

HausBar Farms' Dorsey Barger expressed disappointment with the delay but said she is hopeful the mediation will yield results so the farms can get back to work, adding, "Urban farms set an example of what can be done in a city that doesn't include exploitation of workers, cruelty to animals, pollution of the air, destruction of the soil, and devastation of our waterways."

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