The Coalition for Property Rights (CPR) announced today it participated in Orlando’s Municipal Planning Board (MPB), a citizen board that makes ordinance recommendations to the Orlando City Council, to help an Orlando couple keep the vegetable garden they planted in the front yard of their home.
Jennifer and Jason Helvenston decided more than a year ago to use their residential front yard to plant a vegetable garden. The yard is small so they planted the whole area. Their first “crops” were abundant and they re-planted. Then, something interesting happened.
The owners of the rental house next to the Helvenstons visited their renters and saw the garden. According to one of the owners, the City was called to simply ask if such a front yard use was allowed. City code enforcement visited and issued a citation to the Helvenstons for violating a code that said front yard ground covers had to be “permanent.” In other words, it couldn’t be eaten.
Because the City was in the process of amending its ordinance to include front yard gardening, the citation was said to be temporarily suspended and the issue was placed on the MPB agenda. (Note: according to the City’s website Incident No. 348044 is still posted as of this writing with another inspection date set for February 11.)
Last Friday, CPR contacted a City official to hear the City’s version of the dispute. Then, on Monday, CPR visited the garden and spoke with Jennifer Helvenston.
Here’s what happened at Tuesday’s MPB meeting.
The MPB planning staff prepared an ordinance draft allowing front yard gardens but restricting the size of the garden (25% of a front yard), limiting the height of growth (4 feet) and, requiring setbacks of 5 – 10 feet (among other things). You can read the proposal by copying this link into your browser:
A city planner/project manager presented the proposal first and then, the Helvenstons presented their side. Then came public input.
CPR was first to address the MPB and acknowledged much had already been said about this case in the public media regarding aesthetics of front yard gardens, the value of “sustainable” gardens, and growing public support of front yard gardens as a source of food in difficult economic times.
CPR took a principled position that the use and enjoyment of property is an important part of the bundle of rights to be maximized by every property owner. Because the owners were clearly “enjoying” the use of their property (as were most neighbors) with no apparent risk to public safety or health, CPR advocated the MPB delete all proposed restrictions save one, “All gardens shall be well maintained, neat and orderly while not infringing on neighboring properties.” All but one of the remaining 20 individuals offering public testimony supported this principled approach.
Here is the MPB decision.
After a lengthy discussion among the board members and staff, a motion was made which has been obtained by CPR:
Vice-Chairperson moved approval of the request, Case #LDC2011-00020, subject to the conditions in the staff report and the additional requirements presented by the project planner:
- Vegetable gardens and accessories (swales, etc.) not allowed in the public right of way.
- Minimum shade coverage and shade trees and street trees on a site should be maintained.
- If a front or street side garden is not actively cultivating food for over three consecutive months, plant with permanent landscaping.
- Require all vegetable gardens and landscaping to be well maintained, neat and orderly.
- Fallow portions neatly covered with mulch to prevent erosion and weeds, including bare soil after germination.
- Grading and swales for gardens should be designed to contain run-off on-site, and not negatively affect drainage.
- Changes to the definition of "Agricultural" uses to exempt personal vegetable gardens consistent with proposal.
- Sunrise provision of approximately 6 months (August 1).
In addition to the following statement:
"The Municipal Planning Board recommends the concept of amending the Land Development Code to permit annual vegetable gardens in the yards of the City's residents. We think that the staff report is a thoughtful start to the process, however, we also suggest in passing this staff report forward that the City Council consider the following:
- Conducting a stakeholder/task force staff meeting to gain additional input from City residents.
- Specifically with regards to those stakeholder meetings, a consideration of the 25% coverage limitation as well as the 4 ft. height limitation."
Board member SECONDED the MOTION, which was VOTED upon and PASSED by unanimous voice vote.
If the proposed restrictions were in place today, here’s how it would affect the Helvenston’s use of their property. The current garden is approximately 24 feet by 24 feet or 576 square feet, some 226 square feet over the 25% front yard proposed limit. Applying the new regulations, the garden would decrease in size to 336 square feet, a decrease of 42%. It would also prevent much of the garden from being exposed to afternoon sun due to shadows cast by their house.
In summary, this is the beginning of a specific dialog to allow property owners to use their front yards for vegetable gardens. However, the broader question is: “How much will government insist on limiting property use through restrictions?” The issue will now move forward to the City Council sometime in February