Urban farmers one step closer to on site produce sales

Thursday, June 23, 2011 | 10:50 p.m. CDT; updated 4:06 p.m. CDT, Friday, June 24, 2011

COLUMBIA — Urban farmers are one step closer to selling produce from their land.

The Planning and Zoning Commission approved on Thursday a text amendment request that would allow selling produce on site if the land is in office zoning.

The text amendment will allow sites across the city to become viable for urban agriculture, which would be beneficial to residents in several ways, including access to affordable, healthy food, according to the staff report.

Office zoning currently allows service-based businesses such as those of lawyers, dentists and physicians but not direct retail-sale businesses.

Tim Teddy, director of the Planning and Development Department, said he did not think temporary produce sales would be addressed in the zoning laws if they were in a residential or commercial driveway.

Ron Anderson has been selling vegetables and flowers from his driveway since 2008, when his wife, Peggy, was diagnosed with cancer. She died in 2009. Since then, it has been more of a therapy than a business, Anderson said.

Anderson often sits in a garage filled with the smell of pipe smoke, waiting patiently at a table filled with zucchini, squash, onions, tomatoes and potatoes. His driveway and front yard are covered in trays and hanging pots of geraniums, petunias and pansies.

“I don’t know how much it makes, but I hope I’m making a profit,” Anderson said. “I just like people and talking to them, and I get new people coming in every day.”

When Anderson began selling at his home at 1009 Plymouth Drive, he contacted the city but was told he did not need any special permit if he was growing vegetables off site, he said.

“The big thing is the neighbors,” Anderson said. “They said they’d have to shut me down after the first complaint.”

The commission also approved a request by the Columbia Center for Urban Agricultureto rezone 0.32 acres from an office district to C-1, or intermediate business, zoning. The commission tabled a proposal on May 19 to rezone the 1.78 acres originally requested. The request will go before the council on July 19.

“I think it’s a good cause, and it’s needed,” said Commissioner Ray Puri. “They hit all the points: the neighborhood supports it, they’re doing a good job, it’s needed in the inner city, they’re filling a void, they’re doing all the right things. I don’t see this as spot-zoning. I think it’s the right thing to do.”

Billy Polansky, sales and marketing coordinator with the center, said the new zoning would allow the center to sell produce and value-added goods such as jams and baked goods. It would also ensure that the center could generate revenue to continue its mission.

“The market on site is crucial to the education,” Polansky said. “Think of it as a gift shop at a museum.”

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