Urban Farms and Community Gardens: Improving access to locally grown food

On Monday, August 16, the Council unanimously adopted Council Bill 116907 that supports our rapidly growing local food movement.  The ordinance updates the City’s Land Use code governing urban agriculture uses, including allowing “urban farms” and “community gardens” in all zones, with some limitations in industrial zones.  It encourages food production by allowing residents to sell food grown on their property.

These code changes will strengthen our community food security and support the goals of the Local Food Action Initiative:  increasing opportunities for Seattle residents to purchase and grow healthy food in the city.

Specific provisions of the legislation:

  • Defines urban farms (where food is grown for sale) and community gardens (where food is grown for personal consumption and donation).  While Seattle has more than 2500 community garden (p-patch) plots, there was no recognition of community gardens in the Land Use Code.
  • Permits community gardens outright in all zones.  Because they were not defined in the code, there were no provisions or development standards.  This will help to expand opportunities for siting and developing community gardens.
  • Allows urban farms in all zones, with some restrictions on the size in residential zones and a limitation to rooftops and vertical gardens in Manufacturing and Industrial Centers.
  • Creates development standards for urban farms in residential zones that limits mechanical equipment, commercial deliveries or pickups, and motor vehicles associated with farm operations; specifies that any products sold must be grown on the site or processed offsite and returned to the site and that sales are limited to 7 AM to 7 PM; and limits the size of accessory structures and identification signs.
  • Requires an administrative conditional use permit for sites larger than 4,000 square feet in a residential zone.  DPD must review the site plan, the equipment and any chemicals proposed to be used, and plans for managing stormwater and erosion.
  • Allows rooftop greenhouses dedicated to food production to exceed the height limit by 15 feet and cover up to a total of 50% of a rooftop in most Midrise, Highrise, Commercial, Downtown, and Industrial zones.
  • Creates additional potential locations for farmers markets by allowing them to be sited in all zones that permit commercial uses.
  • Increases the number of domestic fowl permitted on a residential lot from 3 to 8.  In community gardens and urban farms, the number of fowl allowed depends on the size of the lot.  In response to concerns raised about noise and good neighbor relations, the legislation requires structures housing domestic fowl to be located at least ten feet from dwelling units on adjacent lots, and prohibits additional roosters (existing roosters are allowed to remain).
  • Allows existing horse farms that exceed ten acres to continue to operate in residential zones.

These code changes will allow more small scale agricultural operations, promote more productive use of public and private open space, and increase the capacity of underused areas such as rooftops to be used for food production.  These expanded opportunities for producing and distributing locally grown food are important steps towards the sustainability and security of our food system.