Urban farm's rezoning request to allow produce sales tabled

Thursday, May 19, 2011 | 10:51 p.m. CDT; updated 11:29 p.m. CDT, Thursday, May 19, 2011

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.


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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.”

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Corey Parks May 20, 2011 | 10:14 a.m.

I like the concept of that they have going on over there but those dilapidated sheds they are building and the whole trashy look it has for the entire area really needs to be cracked down on. It is easy to have a community garden area and still look nice.

“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.”

People that tend to buy stuff from gas stations are not typically the ones that would be buying vegetable for a snack.

(Report Comment)
John Schultz May 20, 2011 | 10:25 a.m.

Corey, I agree with you about the look of the sheds (although not the need to crack down on them), but I'm assuming those will be painted once they are done being constructed.

(Report Comment)
Verna Laboy May 20, 2011 | 2:07 p.m.

Wow! Great Job CCUA! I am a regular customer at the Urban Farm...and yes I have learned a lot since becoming a customer last season. I am waiting for my own raised beds to be installed so that I can grow my own veggies with my grandchildren. I happen to like the eclectic look of the sheds they are building. Keep up the Great work Billy Polanski and CCUA, as you move Columbia & it's citizens toward making the healthy choice, the right choice! It's getting easier, thanks to you!

(Report Comment)
Billy Polansky May 20, 2011 | 9:36 p.m.

The sheds are currently under construction, we are using re-used materials, which is why they may look a little rough right now. After we finish the trim and roof, the old paint will be scraped off and with a couple coats of fresh paint, these will be some of the nicest sheds west of the raging Mississippi.

Corey, I believe your statement about people who buy food at the gas station is a generalization. Many families would prefer to include fresh vegetables into their meals, but simply don't have that as an option because they don't have a car. Our farm's market makes fresh food a reality to many families in the neighborhood.

Thanks to all of our supporters and please don't hesitate to stop by if you've got questions about what we're up to at the Urban Farm or any of our worksites.

Billy Polansky

(Report Comment)
Corey Parks May 21, 2011 | 6:56 a.m.

Let me know if you need any lumber in the form of 4x4's. They are usually between 24 and 36 inches long. They come from building fences and believe it or not but it is cheaper to buy the 8ft posts for a 4 ft fence then 6ft posts and just cut them off. I have built all my raised flower boxes and gardens out of the extra posts, some liquid nail, and big nails.

(Report Comment)
Paul Allaire May 21, 2011 | 11:23 a.m.

I'm going to guess that they probably don't want any treated lumber on their garden. Just a guess.

(Report Comment)
Corey Parks May 21, 2011 | 2:09 p.m.

Does not matter if it is treated or not. I have seen the boards being used for the sheds and they have a mix. And you can use treated lumber for garden boxes just as you can cedar or redwood. Just have to remember to put the water barrier between the dirt and the wood to separate them. Dont want the wood to rot.

(Report Comment)
Mark Foecking May 21, 2011 | 3:47 p.m.

There's several different types of treated lumber, and some are more suitable for garden boxes than others.

"Copper amine" (copper quarternary amine complexes) treated lumber is the most common treated lumber you can buy at you local lumber yard, and it's fine for any kind of garden box. Chromated copper arsenate is the treatment most people are afraid of, but this has been hard to get for about a decade now.

Whether a particular food plant takes up a contaminant like arsenic is peculiar to that plant. Some plants can be grown in contaminated soils without taking up the contaminant to any extent. It's really much more complicated than most people are willing to research.


(Report Comment)
Paul Allaire May 22, 2011 | 3:54 p.m.

Glad to know that CCA is no longer the mainstay. It was essentially the only kind available a few years ago. It shouldn't make a difference on a shed, particularly when it is painted over or used to frame the inside of a structure and not in contact with the ground.
But I'm sure that these people are wanting to have 100 percent certifiable organic and having CCA on the ground would disqualify that. And Corey, If you really want something good to use on the ground, try bricks or stones. If you can get stones to rot it might improve the ph of your soil, but I wouldn't use untreated lumber on the ground regardless of the barrier and certainly not near a wooden building. Treated wood theoretically shouldn't need any kind of a moisture barrier because the poison that is forced into the grain inhibits rot. It is intended to be used in contact with or directly in the ground, among other things. However, experience has shown me to not necessarily believe everything that is written or stamped on a piece of lumber. I have seen some rotten rotten wooden bridges. Environment does seem to make a difference.

(Report Comment)
Corey Parks May 22, 2011 | 5:44 p.m.

CCA has been gone going on 8-10 years now. It was the one and only treated lumber we could get back then building decks and fences. They fazed that out and brought in ACQ like DK had mentioned. ACQ contains copper instead of arsnic and anyone that knows anything about health knows that the more you come in contact with copper the better it is.

Yes treated lumber will not rot like the other untreated woods but you still can not place it in an area where there is moisture and especially should not place it in contact with the ground. Reason decks have to be built on piers or have proper drainage so that the wood does not stay wet. You would not believe how many deck and fence builders here in town do not do that. Bad for their repeat business. Great for me.

Anyway yes rock/brick/stone is best but whether they use that or lumber around the gardens has no impact on organic or not.

That is my 2 cents. Here is what the local "experts" say

(Report Comment)
Paul Allaire May 23, 2011 | 12:33 p.m.

From the link you provided:

"If you are uncertain about the safety of treated lumber, place a heavy plastic liner between the treated lumber and soil used for growing plants to prevent direct contact of plant roots with the treated lumber. Be careful not to tear the plastic when tilling the bed."

That is the only reason for your plastic liner.

(Report Comment)
Corey Parks May 23, 2011 | 8:21 p.m.

Yeah I seen that. See my original comment was still valid. And you should always line any structure you build for gardening with a rubber or plastic liner. Even Stone or Brick. Constant moisture is always the enemy.

(Report Comment)

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