COLUMBIA — Last spring, the Columbia Center for Urban Agriculture sold fresh produce in a roadside stand on site at its urban farm.
This year, a zoning issue has moved the stand two blocks west to another nearby farm.
The center's urban farm is a 1.78-acre plot of land located between Smith and Fay streets and College Avenue. It is currently zoned for residential and office property and does not allow for retail sales.
The center received temporary business licenses to operate from May to October of last year and this year. But the zoning issue surfaced this spring when the center applied for an electrical permit with the Building and Site Development Office, according to a city staff report.
The Planning and Zoning Commission tabled the rezoning request Thursday night that would have changed the land to C-1 zoning, or intermediate business zoning, from R-3 and O-1 zoning, which designates residential and office districts. The issue was rescheduled for the commission’s June 23 meeting.
Mark Stevenson, the landowner, requested the tabling because he, the center and the North Central Columbia Neighborhood Association are in talks about creating a "legally-binding deed restriction" on the land.
The staff report recommended that the commission deny the rezoning request due to the wide variety of land uses permitted in C-1 zoning districts, the permanence of the rezoning and the uncertainty of the center's future plans for the land.
The report further recommended that the center submit a C-P, or planned district, zoning request. A planned district requires a development plan before the site can be improved, which would add time and expense to the process, according to information in the staff report.
The City Council also could authorize a text amendment to office zoning district regulations that would allow the sale of produce and food products grown or raised on site. This would allow sites across the city to become viable for urban agriculture, which, according to the report, would benefit residents in several ways, including access to affordable, healthy foods.
The text amendment would be a systematic change that could make urban agriculture a priority in the city, said MU Extension Associate Professor Mary Hendrickson. But this change may not be as quick as the center would like, Hendrickson said.
Billy Polansky, sales and marketing coordinator with the center, said that while the text amendment would be a great thing for Columbia, the center's requested zoning would better fit its needs.
“We prefer C-1 zoning because it gives us more options in the future, like if we wanted to do prepared food or food processing on the land,” Polansky said. “It keeps our options open and allows us to generate revenue for ourselves.”
The center estimated that sales from the stand and to restaurants would generate $15,000 this year. Last year, sales from the stand generated only $4,000.
“We didn’t have a full growing season," Polansky said. "Last March, it was a grass lot.”
As part of a $400,000 Healthy Kids, Healthy Communities grant from the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation, advocacy group Unite 4 Healthy Neighborhoods was formed to encourage citywide food policies to counter obesity. Project Director Ian Thomas said he supports the rezoning.
“We support creating mixed-use land, as in a mix of commercial and residential uses,” Thomas said. “To encourage unused land to be used to grow healthy, affordable food is in line with Unite 4 Healthy Neighborhoods’ mission.”
Polansky said the stand sees a broad spectrum of customers, which is why the center offers discounts to those who use food stamps.
“The closest grocery is Moser’s over a mile down Business Loop," he said. "If you don’t have a car or a way to get there, you have to go to a gas station for a frozen pizza or a candy bar.”
Polansky also emphasized the center's goal of educating consumers, noting that on-site sales have more of an impact than selling produce off the farm.
“At the farm, people get the whole experience,” Polansky said. “They can see plants growing, people working and see the final product.”