Garden ordinance gains ground
July 7, 2010
Proposed rules for the placement and tending of community gardens in the city recently moved a step closer to approval.
Hillsborough County planning commissioners have signed off on the regulations. Next, The city council will review and possibly tweak the proposals.
The rules, in the form of a city ordinance, would be Tampa's first regulating the increasingly popular community gardens - plots of land that are planted and tended by residents, each of whom is responsible for part of the larger parcel.
City council members gave initial approval to the regulations in May and sent them to planning commissioners for their suggestions. The council will hold a public hearing and consider a final vote on the measure Aug. 12. If approved, the ordinance would take effect Sept. 1.
Garden supporters who attended the planning commission's meeting said they were surprised by some of the restrictions. For example: The ordinance restricts garden size to no more than 2 acres and excludes the gardens from some residential districts and all industrial districts.
The industrial restriction could hinder the search by Terrace Park Civic Association members to find suitable land for a community garden, association member Lisa Montelione said.
She posed the dilemma to planning commissioners, noting 64 percent of her neighborhood's land is zoned for industrial uses.
If the ordinance is approved as written, Montelione said, property owners who "want to do something nice for the community" would not be allowed to sell or lease their land for community gardens.
Jay Collins, a professional planner who works for the planning commission, said there is concern that industrial land might be contaminated and not suitable or safe for gardening.
Other provisions of the ordinance prohibit pets, amplified sound, alcohol consumption, fireworks storage and ball playing or "other forms of active recreation."
Overall, supporters view the ordinance as a good first step in recognizing the trend toward community gardens in neighborhoods during the past three years.
The gardens have sprouted on privately owned land in Seminole Heights, Palmetto Beach and East Tampa. Gardens are planned in other neighborhoods, including Tampa Heights. In Pinellas County, gardens are growing in neighborhoods such as Bartlett Park and Historic Kenwood.
"It's very important, very exciting, to start writing language that will give us a governing structure," said Andrea Hildebran, executive director of the nonprofit Green Florida, which advocates for community gardens.
At least one unresolved issue remains for the Tampa City Council at its August hearing.
The proposed ordinance would allow the city's zoning administrator to review and approve permits within 30 days without a public notification requirement for neighbors.
Some council members, including Gwen Miller and Charlie Miranda, have said that without a public notification provision they will vote against the ordinance.
Tampa is not the only municipality to craft ordinances for community gardens.
Last year, St. Petersburg approved an ordinance allowing the gardens in all zoning districts and with no restriction on their size. One-year renewable permits are issued by the city's staff. Property owners within 200 feet of garden sites receive notification of the permit requests.
Permits can be suspended if a garden violates city code enforcement regulations. The use of hand tools is encouraged; gas-powered equipment can be no greater than 10 horsepower.
Tampa's ordinance also encourages hand tools but would allow gas-powered equipment up to 20 horsepower.
Hillsborough County does not have community garden regulations. But nearly two years ago, the county approved a $340,000 land swap deal that passed surplus land from the water resources department to its parks, recreation and conservation department.
That cleared the way for a community organic garden in the Carrollwood Village subdivision off South Village Drive.
Tampa's parks and recreation officials recently turned down a request from members of the Seminole Heights Community Garden on Violet Street to lease about 3 acres at the 22nd Street Park off Sligh Avenue.
Parks and recreation officials said the city's policy is that community gardens are not a suitable use for park land.
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