Zoning amendment would nourish urban agriculture citywide

December 8, 2010

Peter Strazzabosco    312.744.9267

New zoning provisions that are designed to foster the growth of urban agriculture throughout Chicago were introduced to City Council today by Mayor Richard M. Daley.

The provisions would incorporate plant-based agricultural definitions and land use tables into Chicago's Zoning Code, which identifies what types of land use activities can take place in specific parts of the city, such as residential uses in (R) districts, commercial uses in (C) districts, business uses in (B) districts, and manufacturing uses in (M) districts.

"Urban agriculture is another tool to restore productive uses to certain properties and to help get more fresh food into the communities that need them. It can also foster skill-building and entrepreneurial opportunities, not just for farmers, but also processors, distributors, retailers and other aspects of the local food chain," Mayor Daley said. "Urban agriculture has a bright future in Chicago and the zoning recommendations consider the many different needs of all our communities."

Though private and public gardens are currently allowed in Chicago, along with small agricultural sites affiliated with certain businesses, the Zoning Code does not provide the specificity that large urban agriculture sites need to thrive and expand, especially in terms of commercial growing.

Community gardens would be defined as neighborhood-based developments that provide space for volunteers to grow plants for beautification, education, recreation, local distribution or personal use. They would be allowed in virtually every part of the city with the exception of manufacturing districts.

Commercial gardens and greenhouses would be defined as growing locations used for the propagation, processing, storage and sale of plants and plant products. The recommendations include specific provisions for hydroponics and vertical farming, typically conducted indoors, and outdoor growing in raised plant beds. Outdoor locations would be allowed in all C, B-3, M-2 and M-3 districts, along with the Northwest, West Pullman and Greater Southwest Planned Manufacturing Districts (PMDs). Indoor locations would be allowed in the above districts and every PMD citywide.

"By amending the code to comprehensively address agriculture as a recognized land use in Chicago, city residents, businesses and government agencies will be better prepared to support its continued growth within the context of the city's established land use patterns and future needs," Mayor Daley said.

In developing the recommendations over the last year, city zoning officials considered the potential impact of urban agriculture on adjacent land uses and identified the types of districts where it would have a complimentary or otherwise negligible effect on neighbors. Staff met regularly with urban agriculture advocates to identify the needs of volunteer and commercial growers as they relate to site sizes, accessory structures, composting, parking requirements, distribution and waste-hauling requirements, and other priorities. Staff also met monthly with the departments of Environment and Public Health to ensure the proposed recommendations work in conjunction with city health requirements and environmental concerns.

The recommendations, if approved, would be accompanied by site protocols for growing operations that involve City-owned land.