Rewrite Baltimore’s influence on urban agriculture.

Like Philadelphia, Baltimore City is currently updating its zoning code through a process the city has named “Rewrite Baltimore.”

You can find the current version of Baltimore City’s proposed zoning code at: http://legistar.baltimorecitycouncil.com/attachments/9707.pdf

In the proposed code, urban agriculture as a land use requires a conditional use permit in every zone of Baltimore City except industrial zones.

In the definitions section at the beginning of the code, the city defines “urban agriculture” as the “cultivation, processing and marketing of food with a primary emphasis on operating as a business enterprise for income generation.” (Section 1-314(J).)

By contrast, the city has created another category of land use called “community-managed open space,” defined as “open-space area that: (1) is maintained by more than 1 household; and (2) is used either: (I) for the cultivation of fruits, flowers, vegetables, or ornamental plants; or (II) as a community gathering space for passive or active recreation.” (Section 1-304(H).)

Community-managed open space (CMOS), in contrast to urban agriculture, is a permitted use in every zone in the city. This means that a farmer or gardener whose activity qualifies as CMOS does not have to ask for permission from the city before carrying on his/her activities on the property.

How burdensome is the conditional use permit process?

In order to receive a conditional use permit, an applicant must:

  • Receive written permission from the landowner to apply for the permit (if she is not the owner of the land).
  • Fill out an application, including the submission of a conditional use permit fee (currently $250) and a to-scale, dimensioned site plan.
  • Schedule a hearing in front of the Zoning Board.
  • Post a large sign on the property advertising the time, place, and purpose of the zoning board hearing.
  • Attend the daytime hearing and justify to the Zoning Board that her use of the property is appropriate for that area.

The Zoning Board, after examining the application and listening to the applicant’s in-person testimony, will decide whether or not she will be able to use the property for the intended use, taking into account many relevant factors, including (among many):

  • The nature of the site versus the nature of the surrounding area.
  • Impact on traffic patterns.
  • Accessibility of light and air, emergency vehicles.
  • Proximity of dwellings and places of public gathering.

The burdens of the conditional use permit process may depend on the scale of the project; if the garden or farm is a part-time activity and the gardener or farmer works full-time at a job with regular office hours, presence at a mid-day Zoning Board hearing may be difficult. The $250 fee and application may also present a significant barrier for some projects; at least at the beginning, urban agriculture brings in relatively little revenue in proportion to the long hours required.

Therefore, if possible, it would benefit urban farmers and gardeners to qualify as community-managed open space, if possible. The definition of CMOS in the Zoning Code as it currently stands is so broad that many gardens and farms would qualify, provided that more than one household maintains the site.

Questions? Contact Becky Witt at beckyw AT communitylaw DOT org.

Posted on by Becky Witt

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