Noelle Swan

Boston’s Pilot Urban Agricultural Zoning Program Serves as Model for Integration of Farming into City Life

In Food Security on May 14, 2012 at 9:00 am

This article first was published by Seedstock.com.

Aside from a little referenced law dating back to the 19th century allowing public grazing for sheep and cattle on Boston Common, Boston zoning laws make no mention of agriculture. In absence of zoning permissions, most agricultural activities are in effect forbidden. “That’s not to say that the city is out there policing people with vegetable gardens,” says Tad Read, project manager of the Urban Agricultural Zoning at the Boston Redevelopment Authority. He adds that without a legal support to lean on, farmers can be penalized if neighbors file nuisance complaints, such as odors from compost and manure application, or squawking of hens laying eggs each morning.

Mayor Thomas A. Menino aims to change that. Last fall he announced a pilot zoning project that would legalize farming on two plots of land that would serve as an experimental model for future integration of agricultural zoning laws across the city. For the pilot, the RDA created what is known as an overlay district. Essentially new zoning laws allowing additional uses were superimposed on top of existing multi-family, residential zoning, Read explains.

The announcement created quite a bit of buzz around pockets of the city. When city officials convened a kickoff and visioning meeting at the end of January, over 250 residents from Boston and neighboring towns converged on Suffolk University to brainstorm how to establish a meaningful agricultural community within the city. The standing room only event was a testament to the burgeoning interest within the city in finding new ways to bring agriculture back to Boston.

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