Indy Rezones impact on urban agriculture in Indianapolis.

Ok, here we go with what will be my third and likely final swipe at this round of Indy Rezone and the parts of this proposal that need to be changed or removed.

Besides the general disdain this zoning package shows for poverty level private industry, it also takes several positions which are out and out hostile towards peoples ability to produce their own food in a meaningful way.

Long and short of it is after going over it over the last couple of days I have decided that “Updating Indy’s development regulations to be more sustainable. more livable” is at best a bit of a misnomer and calling it straight up false advertisement would not be inappropriate.

Don’t get me wrong, there are some pieces of this that are good, and I do not think the package should be discarded wholesale. I do however, think it should be HEAVILY amended, with the interests and needs of our citizens given better attention.

All of that said, today we are going to focus on the aspects of the zoning package that affect urban agriculture. I am going to start with the personal livestock rules, move on to the use tables and then we will discuss some issues I see with some of the use specific standards.

The personal livestock rules are honestly not that onerous. My issues with them have to do with unnecessary duplication of law, the fact that the numbers are arbitrary and that we have had no notable issues in the last 40 odd years since zoning was last visited to justify their creation to begin with.

As it were, someone has done what someone always does and decided we need a rule, so lets take a look at what is proposed. This is covered under “Table 743-306-3. Permitted Personal Livestock in Dwelling Districts, except D-A”.

This table identifies the number of each type of animal allowed in a residential area, if that area is not considered a agricultural dwelling area.

The first animal considered is rabbits. There is no space requirement, but the maximum number of rabbits allowed to be kept is 12.

Now most people would think, no big deal. Anyone raising rabbits as a protein source immediately sees the fallacy of this. Typically if you raise rabbits for personal meat production you keep one Buck, and two does…and preferably have a back up “pet” for each in case of catastrophe. Well under the allotted amount. The problem comes in with growing out the kits, which are what you are raising to eat. You see each doe will have between three and a dozen kits with each litter, usually 8ish. If you are alternating them to have litters opposite of each other so that you have a steady supply, you would have a minimum of 12-20 rabbits on hand at any given time. This is a most basic breeding program that would be difficult to maintain as it does not allow back up breeders or test breeders. So basically this restriction prevents a serviceable personal rabbit program.

The next animal considered is fowl. These are specifically defined as chickens, quail, pigeons and ducks. If you have under 1/3 of an acre you are restricted to 10 birds (total mix of those listed) and if you have over 1/3 of an acre you can have up to 24.

This one is going to pretty much remove all of the small players from the farmers markets when it comes to egg production.

I personally think that this provides adequate stocking rates for small properties, as in that is as dense as I would personally stock them. That said I know one site that is about 1/4 acre that stocks almost 30 chickens. It is more labor intensive to keep sanitary than I prefer but they do a good job with it and the site provides no health hazard to the birds or the community, so take that for what it is worth.

These stocking rates fail to consider the size and needs of pigeon or quail and their breeders though. Given a 1/3 of an acre lot you could feasibly stock 100 quail and 100 pigeons between gardens creating a highly productive system which would healthful for animal and community. I personally think this particular restriction is a swipe at our burgeoning Hispanic community which eats both animals more frequently than the majority of our population.

These stocking rates also fail to consider urban lots over a 1/2 acre, and this is where it hurts our farmers markets. Someone with an acre can tractor 50 to a 100 chickens without even approaching safe density limits and produce the same number of eggs (approximately) daily for sale at the farmers markets. Not enough to be an agricultural operation per se, but enough to supplement their income and help serve the needs of the community.

The last section addresses sheep, goats, horses, mules, donkeys, llamas and alpacas. I do not think these are out of line although I do believe that sheep or goats could be kept for personal dairy use on less than an acre…but it would be labor intensive to do so in a manner healthful for the animal. For the record though, a sheep or goat doesn’t need any more space than a large dog but the city has made no effort to keep them on properties of one acre or larger.

The next thing I want to discuss are the use tables. As I pointed out in my two previous articles on this subject, the city seems to be taking a position that all enterprise should occur in commercial or industrial areas only. I am of the mindset that this is not a fair restriction on housing, and is damaging to the resilience of our neighborhoods.

The cities position is most destructive in its zoning of agricultural business. Other than having a garden, virtually all agricultural business is restricted from dwelling areas unless they are zoned specifically as agricultural dwelling areas and even if they are, most agricultural business is restricted.

The one that gets stuck the furthest in my craw is food processing & packaging and livestock processing. These two are not allowed in the dwelling areas at all, not even in areas zoned agricultural dwelling areas.  As always I think if you can meet USDA standards and you have a state certified kitchen facility on site, go for it. The zoning planners clearly disagree on this matter, and I will just be blunt about this one. They are wrong and their position on this and every other mom and pop type business being forced out of dwelling areas is destructive to our communities and is going to further enhance poverty in areas already afflicted. These policies will also make it harder to correct the problems that poor planning and lack of concern have already created in blighted areas of my city.

Ok deep breath… back to the facts. That is the short version of the actual use tables, and I encourage you to actually read these proposals so that you can adequately argue against them.

The final thing I want to address is the specific use standards that are going to negatively impact our ability to provide more of our own food. there are four that I specifically have issue with, so I will just copy them and comment between.

Chapter 743. Uses & Use Standards, Article III. Use-Specific Standards , Section 04. Agricultural, Animal Related, and Food Production Uses

2. If any boundary of the primary use garden site is adjacent to, or across the street or alley from, a dwelling district, the perimeter of the primary use garden site shall be enclosed by a fence at least 36 inches in height, with at least 50% opacity, and in accordance with the fence standards applicable to the dwelling districts.

So having a garden is the equivalent of having an adult entertainment business? If I grow food I now have to hide it from my neighbors, even across an alley? Let’s be serious, we should be demonstrating to more and more people how we can produce some of our own food, not hiding in the shadows like criminals. There are a lot of activities which should be hidden from view in neighborhoods…something as wholesome as providing your family with safe nutritious food should not be one of them.

3. Greenhouses and hoop houses are limited to a maximum height of 15 feet, shall be setback at least 10 feet from an abutting lot with an occupied residential use, and not cumulatively cover more than 25% of the community garden site.

One line of this makes sense. That would be the requirement for a ten foot abutment, which should exist for fire prevention with any structure. However limiting the height of a greenhouse to 15 foot is arbitrary and prevents innovation, specifically in development of perennial tree systems. I am against anything that creates challenge to innovation without placing the onus of explanation on the restriction.

As for  limiting the hothouse to 25% of the operation, while one does not exist currently, what would the city have against a gardening club who wanted to focus primarily on tropical and subtropical plants? This rule would put a stranglehold on that possibility. Again, while that is not a current desire of any I know, I also see no logical reason that this rule should exist.

 7. Compost and refuse area, equipment and facilities shall be setback at least 20 feet from any front or side lot line. (See Section 743-301) Composting shall be located or designed and constructed to prevent the composting material and compost from sitting in ponded surface water.

Given the large number of yards in Indianapolis that are 40 foot wide or narrower, this pretty much eliminates the possibility of composting at all. I do not think this is the intent of this rezoning and it should definitely be reconsidered.

P. Grocery Store1384

1. In the MU-1, MU-2, MU-3, MU-4, CBD-1, CBD-2, and CBD-3 districts, no single grocery store shall exceed 50,000 square feet of gross floor area. This standard only applies to the portion of the building used as a grocery store, not the total square footage of the building itself.

2. An accessory grocery store shall be part of an existing primary building.

3. An accessory grocery store shall not exceed the ground-floor square footage of the primary building containing the use.

I did not look at this too deeply, but I would prefer to see no restrictions placed on groceries provide they sell whole or naturally processed foods and meet the normal City State and Federal requirements, which are already onerous enough.

So that pretty much covers my major issues with this zoning package. There are dozens of other lines I would like to see stricken or changed, but I think if we can revisit the subjects of the last three days articles we can do much better by our communities.

As one final aside I want to mention my disgust at the fact that an entity which does not pay taxes (any religious site as defined by the zoning commission) and is something that is an option for the people (because many people survive without religion) is not only exempted from almost all of these organizations, but also have additional protections that allow them to impose their will against YOUR property. This happens while unnecessary and unreasonable restrictions are placed on food production (which no human has ever survived without). Nothing against religion, but I think our cities priorities are a bit out of whack on that.

Once again if you want to tread more or comment about what is going on with this rezoning…go to Indy Rezone and participate in the debate.


This entry was posted in Chickens, community garden, community resilience, Community Supported Agriculture, Composting, DIY, DIYFS articles, ducks, Garden, Goats, greenhouse, homesteading, Housing, Livestock, News and politics, Organic, Permaculture, rabbits, Urban Gardens. Bookmark the permalink.