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Pittsburgh's New Agricultural Zoning Ordinance

The details of the City Council meeting today aren't available yet, but the new zoning ordinance is listed with a status of "Mayor's Office for Signature", so it sounds like it's passed. I heard quite a bit of buzz about this last fall when there was a public hearing (summary from PopCity), but then it sat around in committee for a couple of months undergoing revisions (positive ones!), and now it looks like it will finally pass. What's new? Well, in the old zoning ordinance, there was an agricultural use but it was only with an exception from the zoning officials and for properties greater than 5 acres. This clearly didn't jibe too well with the modern urban farming movement, so some revision was due. You can read the whole thing (warning: Word doc), but my take on it is below.

Farming at home

One of the changes is listing urban agriculture as an "accessory use". What this means, basically, is that you can use your yard as a farm and sell the things you grow. You can only sell them on-site in non-residential districts (so no farmstand in your yard). (If you're just gardening for personal, non-commercial use, no worries -- you're already in the clear.)

There are two different designations: with animals, and with no animals.

With no animals appears to be permitted "by right"; that is, you don't need any special exceptions to do it. (That's my reading anyway, but it's a little unclear on this point.) With animals you need to apply for, and it allows the keeping of poultry and bees for properties at least 2000 square feet in size. (That's pretty reasonable, I think -- even my narrow rowhouse lot qualifies.) There are some restrictions about how much space you have to give your hens (no roosters) and where you can site your beehives.

Urban farms

In addition to the "accessory use", there are also changes to the "primary use" -- that is, for lots dedicated to urban agriculture -- real urban farms!

You'll recall that I mentioned above that, for agricultural use, the code used to require at least 5 acres. As a result, to my knowledge there's only one location in the city that actually qualified under the old ordinance, which is Mildred's Daughters Urban Farm in Stanton Heights (which has been a farm since 1875).

The new ordinance reduces the minimum size requirement to 3 acres. A 3-acre site within the city is still pretty hard to come by, but more likely doable than 5. This type of use is called Agriculture (General) and permits all kinds of things: growing plants, keeping bees, poultry, and other livestock.

Even better, though, is a new use, Agriculture (Limited) (this one comes in a with beekeeping and without flavor as well). This use allows the same kinds of things but no animals (except bees, again with over 2000 square feet) but otherwise has no minimum size.

OK, so what?

This is really exciting! This not only lets little cottage-industry gardens operate (with the accessory use provisions above) but real, honest-to-goodness urban farms, in the City of Pittsburgh! Locally grown stuff, right in your neighborhood.

OK, and maybe one of the reasons I'm so excited about it (and also one of the reasons we've been terrible at blogging for some months now) is that we are working on becoming real, honest-to-goodness urban farmers, in the City of Pittsburgh! Things are still in the works, so I don't want to spoil anything just now, but details will come as they take shape.

Community, Gardening, LocalJonathan