Chattanooga City Council takes on zoning rules for urban farming

Chattanooga City Council takes on zoning rules for urban farming

September 26th, 2017 by Paul Leach in Breaking News

Councilman Chip Henderson

Photo by Erin O. Smith

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The Chattanooga City Council will take its third swing at opening up urban farming this evening.

The body has wrangled with doing away with the 20-acre lot minimal requirement to have a property zones for urban agriculture, dropping the threshold down to 5 acres or possibly less. The proposed amendment would require residents to keep livestock so long as they fenced them 25 feet away from neighboring property lines.

The issue has been up for a vote twice — and deferred twice — since mid-September.

Councilman Chip Henderson has championed an option which would allow residents to seek special permits to use their property for agricultural purposes if their lots measure less than 5 acres.

In a meeting earlier today, Councilwoman Carol Berz again voiced her concerns with dropping below a 5-acre minimum.

"I think there's been no need shown across the city for this," Berz said, citing the potential that such exceptions would cater to special interests. "You don't make law for the exception, you make the exception for the law. In other words, we've got to think about the whole city when we pass the law."

She said she was on board with the reduction to 5 acres because such a measure only expands a law that is already on the books.

Henderson questioned whether special permitting would open the door for problems, adding the city makes special exceptions for other things.

Deputy City Attorney Phillip Noblett told the council someone could argue that doing something exceptional by special permitting could amount to spot zoning.

"The issue still of whether that is spot zoning by allowing one neighbor to have it and another neighbor not, might be an issue that would keep you busy," Noblett said.

Rezoning a property for urban agricultural usage comes with limits on the number of animals kept there. The urban agricultural zone requires each cow, horse, pig or other large farm animal to have at least 1 acre of pasture, while smaller animals like goats, sheep, emus and ostriches must each have one-quarter acre of pasture. The zone calls for 1 acre for every 20 fowl, which the city defines as chickens, turkeys and ducks — but not peacocks.

The urban agricultural zone, which has existed for years, differs from proposed urban chicken rules the council shot down in July 2013 after wrestling with them for two months. The chicken regulations, if passed, would have allowed Chattanooga residents to purchase special permits to keep up to 10 hens on their property.

Whether the council goes with the 5-acre limit or allows special permitting for smaller lots, the legislation needs a few tweaks, Henderson said.

Henderson said he wants to adjust regulations which prohibit barns from being within 150 feet of property lines. Instead, he would like to grandfather in existing barns that would otherwise violate the restriction. New barns, however, would need to abide by the buffer.

He also wants to do away the 25-foot animal fence buffer in cases where an adjoining property is 5 acres or more and also maintains livestock.

"There's no reason for a 25-foot buffer between two farms that have animals," Henderson said.

Contact staff writer Paul Leach at 423-757-6481 or pleach@timesfreepress.com. Follow him on Twitter @pleach_tfp.

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