Published: April 20, 2011

City council revises community garden rules

By Kathy Steele | The Tampa Tribune

In February, Tampa City Council members asked for a community garden ordinance requiring a public hearing before the city issues a permit.

Last week, after hearing from nearly a dozen garden supporters, a recently elected city council with incumbents and new council members switched the plan. City land-use staffers were asked to take out the hearing requirement and instead allow for administrative review of garden permits.

The revised ordinance is scheduled for an initial vote at the council's May 4 meeting. If approved, the council would schedule a final vote at a later meeting.

Margaret Vizzi, speaking on behalf of Tampa Homeowners, An Association of Neighborhoods (THAN), said some neighborhoods wanted the protection of a public hearing.

"There was great concern about many of the neighborhoods and areas that just aren't appropriate for them [community gardens]," she said. THAN did, however, support reduced fees for the garden applications, she added.

Issues such as noise, inadequate parking, unkempt lots and alcohol use generally are cited by neighbors who want an opportunity to voice their concerns before council members at a public hearing.

The city normally charges about $2,000 to cover the cost of processing an application that requires a public hearing. The proposed ordinance includes a $200 initial fee, but garden supporters said additional costs for land surveys and site plans still could boost the total cost by $400 or more.

"It's a little bit more than we are equipped to be able to do," said Robin Milcowitz, a founder of the Seminole Heights Community Garden on Violet Street.

Milcowitz noted the nearly 2-year-old Seminole Heights garden produces surplus vegetables and fruits that often are donated to charities such as Metropolitan Ministries.

"Our purpose really is to show people how to grow food," Milcowitz said.

Council Chairman Charlie Miranda said no law prevents anyone from planting a garden on private property. He asked why city officials decided to push for the ordinance and how it would be enforced.

It would be handled by code enforcement officers based on complaints, said city zoning administrator Cathy Coyle.

"I don't think anyone would be put to the test for growing vegetables," Miranda said.

Councilwoman Lisa Montelione said requiring a public hearing for community gardens might be unfair and spur lawsuits.

She cited an existing city ordinance regarding private recreational facilities that does not require public hearings.

"A community garden to me is not as intense a use as country clubs, horse stables or tennis clubs," Montelione said.

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