Adopt-A-Lot reader question: for-profits on city-owned land?

Recently, a reader left the following question as a comment on a post about the Adopt-A-Lot program:

“I have started a for profit LLC urban farm. In both the request to use city water and the Adopt a Lot license agreement, the agreement is for what is referred to as “Community-Managed Open Space”. Although our farm is open space and will doubtlessly benefit the community around it, the wording is a bit vague. There is nothing that I can find in the agreement that prohibits for profit adoptions. Neither the words “for-profit” or “non-profit” appear anywhere in the agreement. Is there anything that would prevent me from adopting a lot for a for profit city farm? I know that it can be snatched away by the city at any time, but it is a risk that I might be willing to take if the lots are not a part of a larger bundled lot, too small to conform to current setback requirements for house construction, have difficult access or is in any other way not attractive to a developer. Your input is appreciated.”

Originally, the Adopt-A-Lot program was intended to be a way for neighbors to keep city lots tidy and presentable: residents could gather and dispose of trash, keep the grass mowed and perhaps engage in a few beautifying projects, like planting flowers and painting murals. The city has always intended to sell these lots to developers or individuals. With the ever-growing urban agriculture movement, however, these notions of what is appropriate for a city lot are starting to change. Residents are beginning to use the lots much more intensively and for much more varied purposes than the city had originally intended.

Is there any language in the agreement that would forbid individuals or businesses from using city owned vacant lots for for-profit purposes?

[Here’s a link to UALP/CLC’s handout that explains the language of the Adopt-A-Lot agreement.]

The only language in the Adopt-A-Lot agreement that seems relevant to this question is the bolded paragraph at the beginning of the document that defines the allowed functions of the space and describes the city’s idea of what “community-managed open space” is.

“For purposes of this license agreement, the community-managed open space must have a strong function in at least one community use, such as active recreation, passive recreation, food production, education, visual relief from the built environment, or gathering space for formal or informal community gatherings. Environmental benefits (such as absorbing rainwater, providing habitat for migratory birds, and reducing “food miles”) and livability benefits (such as elimination of blight or crime reduction) enhance the site’s attractiveness as community managed open space.”

An LLC farm, which is organized for profit, could easily provide several of these benefits to a community, including visual relief from the built environment, and environmental and livability improvements. If the farm is beautiful and filled with colorful growing things, it provides a visual benefit to the community, regardless of whether the structure of the organization is for-profit or non-profit. Also, environmental benefits and increased neighborhood livability have nothing to do with corporate structure.

So I think that the reader is correct when s/he says that the Adopt-A-Lot agreement does not explicitly prohibit the use of city-owned lots for for-profit businesses.

However: it’s possible that the city may have a problem with the idea of:

for-profit businesses

using city-owned land

for free

and not paying any property tax on that land.

Remember: even if an Adopt-A-Lot signer completely follows the agreement, the city may choose to end the agreement at any time (with 30 days’ notice), for any or no reason. Neighbors or fellow business-owners may raise questions about whether the city should be allowing some for-profit organizations to use city land for free.


Posted on by Becky Witt

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