Community gardeners and urban farmers across the city are gearing up for a fight at next Thursday's City Council meeting, where a proposed amendment to Philadelphia's brand new zoning code is slated to be voted on. The amendment would require gardens and farms in mixed-use commercial zones to get a permission known as a special exception from the Zoning Board of Adjustment. Advocates for the growers believe this will be a tremendous burden for existing (and future) farms and gardens, which would have to prove they either own the land they're growing on or have permission from the owner to do so.
Anyone who's been part of a community garden or farm in the city knows that establishing ownership is very tough. Most of the land involved has owners who long ago either moved away or died. Sometimes one of a handful of city agencies owns it, which is an adventure of another sort. There are back taxes to deal with, liens, often contaminated soil (hence, the proliferation of raised beds in these gardens) ... It's no mystery why neighbors typically are delighted when gardeners take over.
In short, the garden community is mighty churned up over this proposed amendment. (There are other reasons beyond the difficulty of proving ownership - getting the special exception will cost money and time.)
This photo is of Las Parcelas, a community garden in Norris Square that has become a gathering place, social hub and food-growing center in its North Philly neighborhood. NSNP gardens and has programs for kids and adults on 66 parcels in the neighborhood. They're a crazy quilt of ownership - NSNP owns 33, is working on getting title to 31, and 2 are privately owned. Amy Laura Cahn, of the Public Interest Law Center of Philadelphia, is helping figure it all out.
Tomorrow's Home & Design section of the Inquirer will explore this complicated issue further.