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Posted on Mon, Dec 10, 2012 : 5:56 a.m.

Ypsilanti delays decision on allowing hoop houses, gardening on vacant lots

By Katrease Stafford

An Ypsilanti zoning amendment that would legalize hoop houses in residential areas and allow gardening on vacant lots was discussed by city officials last week, and then rescheduled for more discussion in early 2013 after too many concerns remained unresolved.


Angela J. Cesere |

The City Council decided to table the discussion until the end of January after concerns were raised Tuesday 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 three key areas researched were:

  • Interest in food production on residential lots.
  • The potential use of greenhouses and hoop houses in residential areas.
  • Opportunities for food production in a wider range of business districts.

Food production on residential lots

The committee, which comprises various Planning Commission members, city staff and community leaders, decided that there has been continued interest in gardening on vacant lots in the city.

"Several churches have bought vacant lots and they would like to have gardens, but they can't," said City Planner Teresa Gillotti.

Currently, gardening is not allowed as a principal use on land within the city, and it is not defined as a permitted accessory use, either. To prevent issues similar to the one that happened in Oak Park in the summer of 2011, where a raised-bed garden was considered a code violation, the Planning Commission recommended zoning ordinance changes that would allow gardening as primary and accessory uses.

The commission sought to have gardens and community gardens allowed as a permitted primary use in R1 (single family) and R2 (one-two family) residential districts.

One ordinance revision would require that such gardens maintain a three-foot setback on street frontages and maintain corner visibility. No farm stands or other sales of produce would be allowed on garden sites.

Council Member Brian Robb was concerned that implementing the revision could make the city's grass ordinance obsolete. That ordinance allows the city to enforce restrictions on tall or unsightly grass.

Robb questioned whether some Ypsilanti residents might use the amendment language to say that their tall grass qualifies as a garden.

City Attorney John Barr said that could become an issue.

"There is still this gray area," Barr said. "We may have trouble enforcing our grass height ordinance… That might have to be tweaked a little in the final reading."


Council Member Brian Robb and City Attorney John Barr.

Jeffrey Smith |

Council Member Daniel Vogt said there are two or three people in his neighborhood who have been cited for violating the grass ordinance, and it remains an issue.

"I generally support this, but there are some things that need to be controlled," Vogt said.

Mayor Pro Tem Lois Richardson expressed concern over whether the increase in produce would bring an increase in unwanted animals, such as raccoons.

"You have to work the garden or you end up with a lot of undesirable things," she said. "I can see neighbors becoming quite disgruntled. If we’re going to have the tall corn or the tall designer grass growing in the front yards, it does provide places for people who have less than desirable intents to hide."

Hoop houses and greenhouses

City officials also said that because of Michigan’s limited growing season, there is increased interest in hoop houses, greenhouses and similar structures that would extend the growing season.

If Ypsilanti were to legalize hoop houses, it would be the first city in Michigan to do so, according to Growing Hope Executive Director Amanda Edmonds. A hoop house is a type of greenhouse with a plastic roof wrapped over flexible piping.

"I've been very invested in this process and think we have a real exciting opportunity to take Ypsilanti to the next level," Edmonds said. "This is our next step to empower people… We know the interest is growing."

The ordinance committee and Planning Commission, much like City Council, debated over the location of greenhouses and hoop houses on vacant lots in R1 and R2 districts. One concern was that, with vacant lots, the city might not have immediate access to a resident or tenant to address issues with hoop house maintenance.

Officials also worried that some hoop houses and greenhouses might be used as second garages, and that some might be so large that they could exceed the size of adjacent structures or generally not fit into the character of the surrounding neighborhood.

City officials worked with the city’s building official and with Larry Lehman, chief of the Building Division of the State Bureau of Construction Codes, to understand how the Right to Farm Act might apply to hoop houses and greenhouses in the city.

The act was passed in 1981 and protects farmers from certain nuisance lawsuits and restrictions.

"It's not always important to be first, but it's important to be right," Robb said. "I want to understand all of the impacts of the Right to Farm Act. What if a farmer wakes up and says, 'I’m going to be farming at 6 a.m.' How does the Right to Farm impact noise ordinances? These types of issues are going to keep coming back."

In practice, greenhouses and hoop houses would not require permits, except in the case of a greenhouse in an approved zoning district where produce sales were also conducted on-site, or potentially in the case where the structures would be used for education or other public gatherings.

In cases where a greenhouse would be an accessory use to a garden on a vacant lot in R1 or R2 zoning areas, a size limitation of 720 square feet would be set. That is the current maximum size for a garage on a single-family lot.

For hoop houses and greenhouses between 721 square feet and 1,200 square feet, a special use permit would be required.

Food processing

Current zoning ordinances limit food production uses to manufacturing districts, though catering is allowed in several districts.


Ypsilanti City Manager Ralph Lange.

The Planning Commission recommended a change to the catering definition to allow more commercial space for small-scale food and beverage production.

Gillotti cited Unity Vibration Living Kombucha Tea as a company that was initially based in Ypsilanti, but that subsequently had to move to Ypsilanti Township because the company couldn't find a place inside the city to suit its growing needs. Unity Vibration owners recently announced plans to expand the company's reach across the country.

City Manager Ralph Lange said that while these sorts of initiatives are important, city officials must be prudent in their choices about where to put their time and effort.

"There are only so many hours in the day and we need to prioritize," he said. "We have lots of stuff in front of us and we just have to be cognizant."

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



Tue, Feb 19, 2013 : 9:45 p.m.

I am very concerned about the scale of these structures and question who will monitor them to be certain they are used for the purpose of farming, rather than storage or other uses. What about noise pollution from fans or generators needed for ventilation? And I am certainly opposed to these structures being placed in anyone's front yard in a residential neighborhood. Property values could be impacted. While I support community gardens, and raised beds, this is a different matter entirely.

Ypsi Eastsider

Tue, Dec 11, 2012 : 6:48 p.m.

Is there a height limit on a hoop house. Some are 20 feet (2-stories) tall anchored in concrete. What is the definition of a hoop house. Is electricity and grow lights allowed. What happens when the plastic rots and starts blowing in the wind. How does the city fix the blight. Can't wait until Kircher decides to build an Ypsi Hoop House. I wouldn't want to live next that either.


Thu, Dec 20, 2012 : 5:36 p.m.

This is what takes so long. All those questions need to be addressed and plastic hoop houses do not have a track record to determine how long they last, what happens to them in heavy wind, deep snow, etc.


Mon, Dec 10, 2012 : 9:27 p.m.

Oh, for jiminy cricket cryin out loud, food shortages are going to be the norm sooner rather than later, so letting people grow their own food should be a no-brainer...get over it!


Mon, Dec 10, 2012 : 5:13 p.m.

I'm an urban farmer in Ypsilanti & think that this is actually a positive turn of events that will enable us to mobilize more support for front-yard gardening & hoop-houses/green-houses (& get more people to meetings to tell the Council their perspective). After all, it was not rejected-- it has only been tabled until January, so it will have no real impact on the growing season or on someone's ability to erect a greenhouse. Let us not forget that our city planners have been working tirelessly to bring about a more dynamic & green Ypsilanti, & have given us amazing things like the Ypsi City Tree Nursery in Water Street & securing grant funding for the expansion of the Border to Border Trail that will give us a continuous strip of green-space from Ford Lake to Frog Island. Urban chickens & Urban honeybees have also been legal since 2009, & the city has given land for the use of community gardens like Frog Island. In other words, Ypsi city council is hardly against food production in the city, they just want more specifics to ensure smooth-sailing down the road. Yes, some of the objections cited here are ridiculous, but they distract us from the fact that we are just a few steps away from this passing. Part of the reason this is taking awhile is because of the 'newness' of hoophouses & trying to see where they fit w/in existing building code, & the fact that some council members are a bit 'gun-shy' after the Thomason MicroEco Urban Farm case (read: too many unruly farm animals in the city=neighbors complaining). Overall, I would rather we 'get it right' before moving forward with the new food ordinance in Ypsilanti. Plus, for the record, Detroit *just* passed their urban agriculture ordinance last week, after 4 years in the making...

Brian Robb

Mon, Dec 10, 2012 : 7:14 p.m.

Just for clarification and a correct timeline of events: City Staff has been working on this since 2010. A Planning Commission sub-committee met twice to discuss this. Once in February and once in April of this year. Planning Commission discussed this at several meetings this year before sending it to Council. City Council began discussing this at the December 4th meeting. We will discuss it again in January (ie. Council hasn't been discussing this for three years). Dealing with RTFA and GAAMPS is a bit of a nightmare.


Mon, Dec 10, 2012 : 6:45 p.m.

Given your experience, FoodFighter, I have to give your opinions serious consideration. My problem is not that the council is considering all the angles and making sure appropriate rules are set up. My problem is that they began discussing this in 2010 and have now tabled it until next year. We are a very small city. Taking three years to decide on these issues is not just crazy--it's irresponsible.

David Bardallis

Mon, Dec 10, 2012 : 4:27 p.m.

Government "planners" at work. Poor Ypsilanti.


Mon, Dec 10, 2012 : 4:15 p.m.

This should be a no-brainer. Instead, allowing a healthy money-saving practice that should be an inherent right seems to be being held up by people with no brains.


Mon, Dec 10, 2012 : 4:07 p.m.

Most of this discussion centers on vacant lots. Not backyards. But I don't think it would be to hard to patrol these areas. it's not like every vacant lot in Ypsi is going to suddenly have a hoop put on it.

Mary Fraser

Mon, Dec 10, 2012 : 3:36 p.m.

Don't grow affordable, healthy produce. Don't go out at night. Don't trust anyone. Be in Ypsi, be afraid.

Mary Fraser

Mon, Dec 10, 2012 : 3:34 p.m.

The description implies anti-raccoon, her quote implies otherwise...people? Let's bring back the "undesirables" epithet. While she's at it, we could probably make up an Ypsi caste system too. "Mayor Pro Tem Lois Richardson expressed concern over whether the increase in produce would bring an increase in unwanted animals, such as RACCOONS. 'You have to work the garden or you end up with a lot of undesirable things," she said. "I can see neighbors becoming quite disgruntled. If we're going to have the tall corn or the tall designer grass growing in the front yards, it does provide places for PEOPLE who have less than desirable intents to hide.'"


Mon, Dec 10, 2012 : 3:13 p.m.

If they're worried about noise violations, then grass should be outlawed. My neighbors on either side have riding lawnmowers that are unbelievably loud. And while they're not mowing at 6am, they are often mowing at dinner time, making it impossible to eat or relax outside. Even if we're inside the windows are shaking. And grass is also by far the ugliest use of land when it's not maintained. Even a totally overgrown garden has its charm.


Tue, Feb 19, 2013 : 9:48 p.m.

But they don't mow everyday. Noise is a big problem in any city, and the sounds of continuously running fans or generators IS noise pollution.


Mon, Dec 10, 2012 : 4:41 p.m.

How do you cut your grass and when? Or, did you outlaw it?

Katrease Stafford

Mon, Dec 10, 2012 : 3:04 p.m.

I've always been interested in the large number of individuals who keep personal gardens. What do some of you grow? I've seen some very diverse gardens in the Ann Arbor/ Ypsilanti area.

Megan Turf

Tue, Dec 11, 2012 : 2:01 p.m.

I have about half of my backyard (on a .18 of an acre) converted to gardens. I would have more, but the neighbors have trees. This past year i grew garlic, bell peppers, tomatoes, onions, leeks, asparagus, potatoes, strawberries, herbs, peas, kale, lettuce, and spinach. My cherry tree went the way of the all the other fruit trees in the state due to the weather. When spring/summer rolls around, a good portion of my food comes from my backyard + the farmers markets in Ypsi. What i can't eat, i preserve so i have it now to eat.


Mon, Dec 10, 2012 : 2:17 p.m.

I strongly support growing food instead of grass in yards. I maintain my own organic garden and enjoy it very much. I know where the food I grow comes from and what's in it. BUT.....after reading the article I do understand some of the concerns that were brought up. There will need to be some rules and checks and balances that insure that the lots won't become abandoned messes with no recourse to clean them up. Gardening is work and requires constant attention to be successful. I hope that this will come about and they will figure out a way to do it successfully.


Mon, Dec 10, 2012 : 2:21 p.m.

It would be nice if they could figure it out in less than two more years.


Mon, Dec 10, 2012 : 2:08 p.m.

"There are only so many hours in the day and we need to prioritize," 1. Air 2. Shelter 3. Water 4. Food 5. City Bureaucrats

Megan Turf

Mon, Dec 10, 2012 : 1:47 p.m.

While i understand the need to make sure the new opportunities aren't taken advantage of, some of these concerns seem a bit ridiculous. Noise ordinance issues at 6am? Does hoophouse=tractor in someone's mind?? These are residential lots, not acres of land. "If we're going to have the tall corn or the tall designer grass growing in the front yards, it does provide places for people who have less than desirable intents to hide."" Why don't we cut down every bush and tree that gets higher than 3ft for goodness sake! I garden. Most of my backyard is garden. And while i don't have the space for a hoophouse, i would certainly want one if i did. Growing my own food is important to me. So let's hope some of these more silly concerns that show that they have zero experience with these things gets ironed out. Maybe Amanda can take City Council on a field trip to Growing Hope or something. Show them what a very large version of what everyone is talking about looks like and how lout it is. smh.


Mon, Dec 10, 2012 : 1:43 p.m.

OK, let's see if I have this right. The city council has been studying the issue of whether gardening on vacant lots should be allowed for more than two years and have failed to come to a decision. Tall grass...raccoons... Seriously? This same city council approved putting yet another dollar store on the Water Street property within days, without studying the impact of that decision or even--in most cases--asking city residents for their opinions. But allowing residents to grow food on their own properties requires the need to "prioritize" and be "cognizant" and "prudent." Let's just vague this to death, shall we? It may be time to show this particular city council the door and elect some raccoons.


Mon, Dec 10, 2012 : 1 p.m.

As a European living in the USA I ask what has happened to the 'Land of the free" ? I can't park my own car in my driveway, keep a chicken or two for some eggs and it is illegal for me to grow some veggies under plastic ?


Mon, Dec 10, 2012 : 12:53 p.m.

I apologize for the obvious typos using this text to talk translator doesn't always get it right. Thanks again.


Mon, Dec 10, 2012 : 12:51 p.m.

There Will always be residents and landlords who what to find a new way to slack on maintenance And upkeep in their yard. Those of you who do not need to garden in order to bring fresh fruits and vegetables to the tables of your own children Will perhaps never feel the need To have your own gardens, greenhouses and hoophouses. In this day and age where there are more low income families then not , growing your own produce is necessary. Currently I have four local spots in which I do my gardening spread throughout the city and community garden plot my own backyard and family members backyards. I cannot begin to tell you how important having a group house would be to me and my family of 5 children. I absolutely need to grow my own produce in order to meet the needs of my family! The comment about a farmer or Gardner going out to garden at 6am simply sounds like rubbish to me. I can't think of 1 instance we're pulling weeds for watering some things could be loud and obnoxious. Especially with all of those people who have sprinklers that go on automatically at 6am to water there seemingly unnecessary lawns. People should not be prohibited from being able to produce their own food for their families!


Mon, Dec 10, 2012 : 1:54 p.m.

Darn right, Michelle. I say do it anyway and let the city try to stop you. People should have the basic human right to grow their own food.


Mon, Dec 10, 2012 : 12:41 p.m.

Huh....I always wondered what you called those Quonset Hut looking greenhouses.


Mon, Dec 10, 2012 : 11:16 a.m.

Let's see, people want to grow food to eat. People may want to start a business that involves the food they grow. How many ways can this city discourage the process? My favorite so far is the worry that the appearance of a hoop house would not fit in with the character of the neighborhood. Folks, people want to grow food to eat. How can you be against this?


Mon, Dec 10, 2012 : 11:36 a.m.

"Folks, people want to grow food to eat. How can you be against this?" Is that a trick question?