Urban Ag in the Desert

[Update: The next meeting has been scheduled for June 10, 6:30-8pm at the YWCA (525 N. Bonita Avenue).  You can find the official flyers here: English and Spanish.]

The City of Tucson is holding public meetings over May and June as part of an effort to revise the City’s zoning regulations on urban agriculture, including farmers’ markets, community gardens, urban farms, and the keeping of small animals.  To help you understand what’s going on, we’ve put together some background info, including some highlights in bullet form.

Background Information

As part of the Sustainable Code Integration Project, the City of Tucson is revamping the city’s zoning ordinances related to urban agriculture and local food sales in Tucson. Although urban food production has been going on for many years in Tucson, this is the first effort to bring the city code up-to-date to reflect those activities. Members of the Pima County Food Alliance (PCFA) and others have actively followed the zoning code process, and have provided input on the proposed changes.

For the most part, the proposed zoning changes are coming together nicely and will be instrumental to creating a greener and more edible landscape in Tucson. Nonetheless, there has been pushback from some neighborhood members who are concerned about the potential implications of the new ordinances. These residents have been (and will likely continue) insisting on more restrictive regulations for urban agriculture. In addition, there are a few issues that still need clarification (particularly regarding the raising of small farm animals).

Given the controversy that these zoning changes have raised among some neighborhoods, it is important that we generate a large showing at the two public meetings to demonstrate widespread support for continued (and expanded) food production in the City of Tucson. It is particularly important that Tucson residents who keep farm animals (or their neighbors) attend these meetings. There has been a lot of disagreement on issues regarding the keeping of urban farm animals. Please consider attending the meeting and/or extending the invitation to other interested parties!

Highlights of the Proposed Zoning Changes

  • The proposed changes provide guidelines to allow garden sales from homes, community gardens, urban farms, and small and large farmers’ markets
  • They propose guidelines for the size and placement of greenhouses, animal housing/corrals, and compost
  • They attempt to define appropriate set-backs and guidelines (including number limits) for raising small farm animals

Potential Problems with the Proposed Zoning Changes

  • Farmers’ markets in residential areas will require a Special Exception Procedure, an annually-renewed permit, and can only operate between 7 am and 5 pm  (this is more restrictive than current regulations).
  • The number of fowl permitted is reduced from 24 to 8. In addition, the keeping of up to 3 small animals is permitted.Small animals include miniature goats, rabbits, rodents, fowl, and other similar animals. Larger properties can have one additional animal for every additional 5,000 square feet of property. Property owners may request the number of animals be increased through a Design Development Option. No animal shelters are permitted between the building and the front street.
  • Although on-site sales of home-produced agricultural products are permitted, the sale hours are restricted to between 7 a.m. and 5 p.m.

If you want to delve deeper, consider investigating the following resources:

Arizona Public Media’s May article

Summary of Public Comments from May Meeting

Side by Side Comparison of Current vs. Proposed Urban Ag Changes

If you can’t make the meeting, but have comments to make, you can always contact:

Rebecca Ruopp, Office of Integrated Planning
(520) 837-6973; Rebecca.Ruopp@tucsonaz.gov

Also feel free to contact the Pima County Food Alliance with any comments or concerns: info@pimafoodalliance.org

4 Comments on “Urban Ag in the Desert

  1. Thanks Laurel for the clearly written summary of the zoning changes. Ultimately the future of clean food possibilities and the awareness of the need for more flexible urban ag codes relies on a more comprehensive awareness of the needs of a green tomorrow and on the mutual cooperation of the government and the public.
    Elizabeth

  2. Dear PCFA — I am very glad to see you are informing your members about the zoning project but can’t tall you how much damage you did by stating that the new code reduces the number of chickens permitted from 24-8. The draft, as it is currently written, does put a cap at 8 chickens — which is totally unreasonable and opposed vigorously by me and many others (we are advocating to go back to the animal unit based on lot size) but the CURRENT code absolutely DOES NOT permit 24 chickens UNLESS YOU HAVE 50′ SETBACKS FROM THE PROPERTY LINES FOR THE COOPS. This makes just about every backyard chicken in midtown urban areas illegal — unless you have a property that large enough to accommodate 50′ setbacks (most urban lots are about 60′ wide) you can currently have ZERO chickens! So even a 8 chickens – which will definitely be moved up — you are still better off than you are with the current rules. Zoning issues are quite complicated and erroneous i formation is difficult address once it is out there in the community. Please try to be more accurate in the future. Your comment has led to many people being quite negative about the entire set of regs and mistrustful of the city’s overall intent. We don’t need negativity – we need thoughtful and informed input. Merrill

  3. Hi Merrill. Thank you for the feedback. I can’t speak for the author of this article, but I think it’s worth pointing out that the information we provided is technically correct. And the article does state that the new changes are largely positive. As for the current 50′ setback restriction; you’re right, it’s ridiculous. I did edit the article and should have thought to include it. (My excuse is that I’ve been out of town and/or sick for 5 of the last 6 weeks, so my head was not entirely there.)

    That said, I do think bringing up the 24-chicken current limit is worthwhile; while the number means nothing in practice for most people, it does present a reasonable point from which to negotiate. And one with precedent. There was obviously a reason for coming up with 24 at some point, so why can’t we negotiate from there, instead of from 8?

    Like you, I tend to be very sympathetic to the efforts the city folks are making and I get annoyed when people lash out just because they can. There was a little more of that than I would have liked at the meeting last night. It’s not, however, immediately clear what the cause of that was, or that it had anything to do our article. People are clearly unhappy with the limit of 8 chickens, which is something that dates back to the May meeting, before we put this out. (If you look at the comments from the last meeting, even then the largest and clearest single concern was about the restriction on the number of chickens—I counted ~20 comments to this effect.) Overall, it’s good to have supporters there in large numbers.

    But I think your larger point that we should be finding ways to positively channel the energy of supporting folks is spot on. We will be mulling that over the next month, and are certainly open to specific ideas, if you have them. (I have a hunch that you do.)

    Thanks again for chiming in!

  4. Rather than focusing on numbers and “limits” we need to focus on the intent on both sides. That intent being to enhance an individuals basic right to decide an appropriate path to raise food within their own space and hopefully in cooperation with their neighbors. There will always be those that believe that codifying this is an intent to control rather than to cooperate. Setting that aside, not only should we be thanking the City for facilitating an attempt to reach some sort of public consensus, but we need to encourage them to make the new policy as flexible as possible to encourage public participation with the code rather than just abiding by another magical number that may not make sense for every situation. A simplified version of the animal units method (using whole numbers) could do that, and avoid making another numerical limit the focal point of what should be a much deeper conversation.

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