Council vote opens door for urban farming in Chattanooga

Council vote opens door for urban farming in Chattanooga

September 27th, 2017 by Paul Leach in Local Regional News

Former Judge Walter Williams speaks to the Chattanooga City Council.

Photo by Contributed Photo /Times Free Press.

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Chattanoogans can now raise cows, horses, goats or even chickens if they have at least 5 acres of land.

Tuesday night, the Chattanooga City Council loosened up longstanding zoning rules that said landowners must have at least 20 acres to rezone their property for urban agricultural purposes. Now it only takes 5 acres of property, a site plan for animal location and a willingness to file paperwork with planning authorities.

People who own fewer than 5 acres of property can still get into urban farming if they file for a special permit, which the city council must approve.

This exception to the new agricultural zoning baseline divided the council in a 6-3 vote to include it as part of the entire package, with Vice Chairman Ken Smith and members Carol Berz and Darrin Ledford casting "no" votes.

Councilman Chip Henderson

Councilman Chip Henderson

Photo by Erin O. Smith

City Councilwoman Carol Berz

City Councilwoman Carol Berz

Photo by John Rawlston /Times Free Press.

"I have been contacted by several in my district that have situations where they would like to have agricultural farm animals," said Councilman Chip Henderson, who represents Lookout Valley.

Henderson, who championed the inclusion of the special permitting, has previously said "certain locations, certain properties" would be appropriate for urban agricultural zoning.

Berz, who supported the 5-acre threshold, has worried special permitting would make a law for exceptions.

"I think there's been no need shown across the city for this," Berz said in another meeting.

Any property zoned for urban agricultural use must provide enough living space for all the animals it holds. City codes call for each cow, horse, pig or other large farm animal to have at least 1 acre of pasture. Goats, sheep, emus and other small animals must each have one- quarter acre. It takes an acre to raise up to 20 fowl, including chickens, ducks and turkeys. No peacocks allowed.

The new rules require a 25-foot buffer between animal fencing and neighboring property lines unless the adjoining property is 5 acres in size and also raises livestock. New barns may not be constructed within 150 feet of a property line, but existing barns do not have to abide by that restriction.

The council wrestled with and finally dumped proposed urban chicken rules four years ago. Those regulations would have let people keep up to 10 hens on their property by way of a special permit.

In other business, the council voted 9-0 to approve former Judge Walter Williams as one of the city's administrative hearing officers.

The officers are part of the city's strategy to combat blight.

They have to the power to levy $500 fines per day for unkempt property, a big leap over the $50-per-day remedies available in Chattanooga City Court.

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

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