The Future of Urban Agriculture in OKC

SEE EDIT NOTE AT BOTTOM ABOUT NEXT STEP

When I left my job at The City of Oklahoma City, staff had made various forays into reviewing zoning regulations regarding urban agriculture. Euclidean zoning, by its nature, generally causes zoning practitioners to err on the side of caution – if something isn’t explicitly permitted, then it’s not allowed. At the very least, if something is questionable, it becomes bogged down in the red tape of government review. Therefore, when it comes to urban agriculture and its various elements, if it’s not explicitly permitted in OKC’s zoning code, it’s not allowed.

This week, while doing my regular browsing of OKC’s City Council and Planning Commission agendas, I noticed that OKC staff was bringing a rather large urban agriculture ordinance to Planning Commission for first hearing. The ordinance is more than just permitting home gardens, hoop houses and even greenhouses in all parts of the City. It allows chickens on lots less than one acre, roof gardens and rainwater harvesting. This is a great step forward to allowing, even encouraging, urban farming and related endeavors by residents of OKC.

The drive to be a healthier community is rooted in the physical environment. Our reliance on the automobile and the limited walkability that we have designed around that lifestyle, has greatly reduced the healthy of our City and the nation. Furthermore, the refined, processed and non-fresh food that most of us consume contributes to our overall lack of health. An increase in home gardens, hoop houses, greenhouses and urban farms would do wonders for our collective health. Additionally, raising one’s own food (and eggs) could also lead to less spending on food overall. The ordinance is not limited to homeowners – it appears to be written to allow and encourage restaurants and the like to grow more of their own food. The allowance for roof gardens, hoop gardens and greenhouses feels particularly useful for this.

To read the staff report and the proposed ordinance for yourself, go here: http://www.okc.gov/AgendaPub/meeting.aspx?cabinet=published_meetings&docid=55920 (Item 29).

A few specific notes: First, the item that I predict will be the most controversial is the allowance for up to 6 chickens per home on lots less than 1 acre. It shouldn’t be controversial, the conditions attached to the use require that each chicken have 4 square feet of living space in the coop and 8 square feet outside the coop. Additionally, the structure must obey all setback rules and be at least 10 feet from a property line. Finally, they must be hens – no roosters, which are what cause the noise that people associate with chickens. I hope this part goes through – it will certainly need the verbal and written support of the residents of OKC.

Second, the ordinance surprised me in that it specifically deals with compost. I’ll be honest that I hadn’t ever thought that compost would be a legal issue, that it wasn’t already permitted. However, reading the ordinance I can see that people needed to distinguish between compost and trash. So, if you compost at home and don’t already keep the compost in a bin or related enclosure, you need to get ready to comply.

Third, I’m pleased that the ordinance specifically codifies and allows rainwater harvesting. Collecting what rainwater we can will lead to slightly less usage overall, and will assist in irrigation. Garden plants should also do better, because rainwater is (freer) of the chemicals introduced in the drinking water treatment process.

If you support this ordinance, please write your Planning Commissioner and City Council person (as well as those that aren’t yours).

Believe it or not, I don’t have a dog in this fight, so to speak. I live in Lincoln Terrace, and our zoning is controlled by the State of Oklahoma. Any change to the City’s zoning has no bearing on our neighborhood (until we dissolve the State’s zoning control – that’s another story).

Oklahoma City Planning Commission meets Thursday Oct. 24, at 1:30pm on the third floor of City Hall for the 2nd and final PC hearing. Then it’s on to City Council. Read a good blog update from Dave Cathey here: http://newsok.com/looking-for-fowl-in-all-the-wrong-places-urban-chickens-need-your-help/article/3896757?custom_click=rss

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