You are viewing this article in the archives. For the latest breaking news and updates in Ann Arbor and the surrounding area, see
Posted on Sun, Feb 24, 2013 : 5:58 a.m.

Ypsilanti legalizes gardening on vacant lots and delays decision on hoop houses again

By Katrease Stafford

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.

Thumbnail image for stjoseph-thumb-400x266-129005.jpg

Although Ypsilanti residents can now legally garden on vacant lots, they will have to wait to legally use greenhouses and hoop houses.

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.

Katrease Stafford covers Ypsilanti for her at or 734-623-2548 and follow her on twitter.



Mon, Feb 25, 2013 : 10:21 a.m.

This sounds like a pretty cool option to have compared to a vacant lot. Are people worried about going through all of the work to set up a greenhouse only to have the property sold? Are the chances of that happening slim? I wouldn't mind squatting on some vacant land and making money off of it though.

Julia Herbst

Mon, Feb 25, 2013 : 1:55 a.m.

I HIGHLY support being allowed to garden on empty lots in our neighborhood. We garden every summer in our front yard, in a 25/4ft section up against the fence. There is an empty lot at the end of our street, where a delapidated home was torn down. Adding a community garden there, would be wonderful. Especailly for the many people who walk their dogs, or even stroll down our street through the summer and fall. Maybe just a few raised beds, no hoophouses, just some small gardens, and a bench or two. IT would be a nice place to relax. Hmmmmmmm. And it would take your eyes off of the blighted house next to the lot.


Sun, Feb 24, 2013 : 10:03 p.m.

There is a great deal of wildlife where I live and while I am enjoy watching the rabbits, deer, woodchucks, 5 billion squirrels, etc. I am not inclined to put in a garden(we do have designated garden plots at Chidester Place) just to see the wildlife chow it down. to sum up: no hoop house, no garden for me! sorry bambi/bugs!

dading dont delete me bro

Sun, Feb 24, 2013 : 4:26 p.m.

how about hoop house water street project?!?

Julia Herbst

Mon, Feb 25, 2013 : 1:59 a.m.

Yes Please! The proposed ideas for a family dollar and the rec center are terrible!!! Extend riverside park into this land and it would be great! No really though. Im serious about hating the REC center idea. IT will only be full of the worst of Ypsi, just like the pool at the senior center was(Which has sense been closed). We have a communutiy center, with a gymnasium, a golf course, classes, etc. The idea is nice, but in reality it would be horrible


Sun, Feb 24, 2013 : 4:23 p.m.

Detroit residents are already doing this calling Detroit the greenest city in America. Although, yes, there is some court disputes over this because developers want this land. Hate to say it, with food prices going up? I think the courts may go with the grower.

Homeland Conspiracy

Sun, Feb 24, 2013 : 3:54 p.m.

Not sure about this...but wouldn't gains of growing your own be wasted by using electricity & generators. It just seems counter productive.

Mary Ann Barbary

Tue, Feb 26, 2013 : 8:39 p.m.

I don't know a single hoop house grower who uses electricity, generators or fans and this was clearly explained during the meeting. It's *possible* but very unlikely. Hoop houses are used to harness passive solar heating and lighting -- an inexpensive way to extend the season. Adding a generator/electricity etc., would substantially increase the cost.


Sun, Feb 24, 2013 : 2:34 p.m.

once again, the old rigid Ypsi can't figure it out. they continue to control and strangle the city. i might see a few rules about gross size but Ypsilanti has more ordinances (and the taxes to go with them) than most cities our size. we already have a noise ordinance. we already have a smell/nuisance ordinance. cripey people, get over your stiff retentive selves! Ypsilanti can't move forward if the city insists on spending its time looking up its backward end!


Sun, Feb 24, 2013 : 1:37 p.m.

I beieve there is an error in the revised rules. It states that motorized equipment hours are restricted to the hours of 8pm - 8am which means people can used motorized equipment alll night long! I believe this is an error and should read between the hours of 8am - 8pm. Council needs to fix this...possibly only a typo,but still.

Katrease Stafford

Sun, Feb 24, 2013 : 1:58 p.m.

Vaudois, You are correct and I have changed the hours. Someone brought up similar concerns at the Tuesday meeting. It looks like it was a clerical error and I'm assuming the ordinance revision will be updated. I thought I caught it myself as I was typing this article!


Sun, Feb 24, 2013 : 1:36 p.m.

Urban hoop houses in Ypsilanti sound like a potential solution to Ann Arbor's winter homeless problem.


Sun, Feb 24, 2013 : 9:40 p.m.


Stephen Lange Ranzini

Sun, Feb 24, 2013 : 12:37 p.m.

According to the MSU Ag professor who pioneered the use of Hoop Houses in Michigan, the economic impact of widely deploying hoop house technology in Michigan would be the creation of over 10,000 new jobs. According to his analysis and results at the MSU Farm, Hoop Houses are a good investment if properly run, with an annual return on investment of 20%. With proper controls so they are sympathetic to their neighbors, Hoop Houses should be widely encouraged since they create wealth for each community that embraces them.


Sun, Feb 24, 2013 : 3:47 p.m.

If the "highest and best use" of a chuck of property in the middle your city is a hoop house, that really tells you something, doesn't it?


Sun, Feb 24, 2013 : 12:13 p.m.

With proper orientation of the fan in the hoop house and proper sizing, the fan can be almost silent. As to generators, greenhouses don't have to draw that much electricity at 720 square feet. A single 20 amp extension cord can run most greenhouses at that size. It is only if lights are going to be added for growing that more power is needed. The harder part is water during the winter months, depending on the crops - 5, 10 or even 40 gallons a day might be required. For some people moving that much water in buckets can be a pain. The other problem to pay attention to in hoop houses is that they can't really be secured - since the walls are heavy sheets of plastic anyone can make an entry if they choose to. When they do, if the weather is wrong it ruins the crops inside. A little bit of planning and thinking should make hoop houses easy. The ordinance may need a few added paragraphs about noise levels (e.g. dB at 30 feet) and other requirements, but I really think the issues can be solved.


Sun, Feb 24, 2013 : 11:19 a.m.

YES! One step in the first direction. If you can grow it, do it. Urban gardening is a great idea. I think greenhouses/hoop houses should be allowed, but have some restrictions as to size and such. They will be a big help in growing food in cold Michigan. Growing your own food, even if you sell it, will be a big help to people and families in Michigan.