Ypsilanti legalizes gardening on vacant lots and delays decision on hoop houses again
Ypsilanti residents can now legally garden on vacant lots, but council again delayed a decision Tuesday on allowing hoop houses and greenhouses within city limits after several concerns were raised by homeowners.
Council voted 4-3 Tuesday to remove hoop houses and greenhouses from the ordinance revision resolution. No decision was made whether the issue would be discussed for a third time.
The city council initially tabled the discussion last December until February after concerns were raised about the possible effects of loosening land use restrictions in residential neighborhoods.
In 2010, the planning commission’s ordinance committee began looking into possible amendments to clarify where food could be grown within the city, to address residents' requests for small-scale hoop houses and to increase the areas where food production could be done.
The ordinance revision would have allowed greenhouses and hoop houses up to 720 square feet in residential areas. Those interested in increasing the size to 1,200 square feet, would have been required to obtain a special use permit and site plan would be required.
Due to Michigan's growing season, city staff said they noticed an increase in interest in hoop houses and greenhouses to extend the growing season to nearly a year-round use. Supporters said the structures would provide economic benefits, greenhouse gas reduction and an interim use of vacant lots.
Concerns raised by council members and residents ranged from a possible lack of an immediate resident or tenant to address any possible issues with the hoop house maintenance, worry that the structures may be used as a second garage, and concern that hoop houses may be so large they could exceed the size of adjacent structures or not fit into the character of the neighborhood.
Ypsilanti resident Kathy Bodary said while she supports the concept of urban farming, she has concerns regarding the regulation of them.
"I love seeing raised beds, but I have some similar concerns," Bodary said. "There’s a maintenance issue... I'm very concerned about noise pollution. The idea of fans or power equipment that would be needed is a real issue. People have the right to peaceful occupancy of their homes. I don’t want to hear a generator running."
Peter Church was another Ypsilanti resident against the idea.
"The issue is near and dear to myself and my neighbor," Church said. "To see something like a 720-square-foot hoop house, that's extraordinary. Is that your vision for the city? It's certainly not mine. We need to keep our residential areas for residents and that's the number one concern i have."
Nicki Sandberg, a trained urban planner, said hoop houses and greenhouses have a large economic impact on cities.
"It can have a hugely positive impact," Sandberg said. "It can extend the season and provide dollars to the local community."
"I really think that these kinds of ordinances will attract the creative class," said Lisa Bashert, Marketing Coordinator and Beekeeper for the Ypsilanti Food Co-op.
Council Member Pete Murdock said there were too many questions regarding the hoophouses.
"It's going to take more time to deal with all of the issues of hoop houses," Murdock said.
Gardening on vacant lots now legal
Although council removed hoop houses and greenhouses from the discussion, council approved a zoning ordinance change allowing gardening on vacant lots.
Council approved the change with six votes in favor of it, Mayor Pro Tem Lois Richardson abstained from the vote because she had too many questions and concerns.
Council will have a second reading of the ordinance at an upcoming meeting.
Prior to this, gardening was not allowed as a principal use on land within the city. The change allows residents to have gardens and community gardens as a permitted primary use in R1 (single family) and R2 (one-two family) residential districts.
Council members previously expressed concern regarding whether the ordinance change would possibly make the city's grass ordinance obsolete. The ordinance allows the city to enforce restrictions on tall or unsightly grass.
City staff made several revisions to prevent gardens from potentially becoming nuisances to neighbors:
- Gardens should not encroach on neighboring property.
- The property shall be maintained in an orderly and neat condition and shall not be detrimental to the physical environment or to public health and general welfare, and remains subject to compliance with the property maintenance code, noise ordinance, and related ordinances.
- The property shall be maintained so as to prevent the free flow of storm water, irrigation water, chemicals, dirt, or mud across or onto adjacent lots, properties, public streets, or alleys.
- Motorized equipment within a residential zoning district or residential planned development district shall be restricted to hours beginning at 8 a.m. and ending at 8 p.m.
- Equipment, such as fans, necessary for the operation of greenhouses are exempt from the provisions.
- Compost piles may only be used for waste generated on site, and are subject to three foot setback requirements.
- Gardens shall utilize integrated pest management techniques and best practices.