Planning commission votes to show support for allowing community gardens

Topeka Capital Journal (KS), 2014-07-22


Four people went to the lectern at Monday evening's Topeka Planning Commission meeting to share a taste for changing city zoning rules to allow community gardens.

That commission then voted 7-0, with two members absent, to support a slightly amended version of a proposal to update the city's zoning code.

The proposed rules, put forth by the city planning department, include a change that would allow the presence and spell out rules for the use in Topeka of community gardens.

City planning director Bill Fiander indicated his department would work with the city attorney's office to craft an ordinance spelling out the proposed new rules for the city's governing body to consider.

The city in 1992 last completed a comprehensive review and calibration of its zoning districts and permitted property uses.

Fiander brought various proposed changes Monday before the planning commission. That body makes recommendations regarding planning and zoning matters to the city's governing body, which has final say on them.

Four of the five members of the public who spoke Monday expressed support for a change that -- in all types of zoning districts -- would allow community gardens in vacant lots where the garden is the primary property use. The city would charge a one-time, $50 fee for each garden.

City zoning rules currently ban community gardens as a primary use on a vacant lot. The community gardens that exist here primarily do so as a secondary property use to a church or school, Fiander said.

Robert Fitzgerald told planning commissioners about how his interest in community gardens took root after he bought a vacant piece of land last October with the idea of perhaps starting a garden -- then learned the only thing he was allowed to grow there was grass.

Fitzgerald said he subsequently joined an existing, established effort to change zoning rules to allow community gardens. He said he was one of 30 to 40 people who attended a public meeting the city held in April regarding the topic.

Community garden supporters also included Jamie Hancock , horticultural extension agent with K-State Research and Extension in Shawnee County .

"It's a movement on the forefront and will continue to grow," she said.

Still, Hancock questioned some of the planning department's proposed rules, including allowing work in the gardens only between 8 a.m. and 8 p.m.

She said gardeners, particularly in July and August, like to get to work around 6 a.m. , and sometimes garden after 8 p.m.

Fiander agreed to amend the proposed rules to allow that, banning only the use of machinery and the sales of goods in the community gardens outside 8 a.m. to 8 p.m. The proposed updated zoning code is set out in a matrix format that lists different types of property uses on the left and different types of zoning designations across the top.

To determine if the city allows a certain type of property use for a certain type of zoning district, users may pick out a property use listed on the left, follow the corresponding line across the page until reaching the line extending downward from a zoning designation listed at the top, and check the box where the lines intersect to see if that property use is allowed for that type of zoning district.