Careful with that garden hoe, neighbor

Published 9:39 pm Monday, April 11, 2016

To the editor:

You reported last month on a proposed ordinance for community gardens in residential neighborhoods zoned R-1. A few questions come to mind on this issue.

There are four main topics of concern to me in the ordinance: the R-1 zoning, the acreage, the use of a utility shed and the use of heavy farm equipment.

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Unimproved residential building lots in subdivisions zoned R-1 may be used for community gardens. The acreage must be less than two acres, and the garden must be set within the applicable setback and set-off limits. The lot may be used by anyone with or without the owner’s permission. The owner could be an absentee landlord.

While the rules for siting the garden are clear, who will ensure the ordinance is followed? Should someone be required to submit a site plan as would be required for a building permit or any other land disturbance? Should a silt fence to control run-off be required in compliance with the Chesapeake Bay Preservation Act and the Army Corps of Engineers rules and regulations?

With a site plan in place, you would need an inspector to ensure compliance. The permit would need to be issued to the owner, or someone under legal, written contract to use the land. This person would be the person responsible for ordinance compliance and any liabilities that may be incurred.

A shed may be used of no more the 250 square feet. Will the shed be stick-built or a pre-fab type from the hardware store? Will a building permit be required? Will a foundation or slab be required or not allowed? If the property is no longer be used for a garden, what becomes of the shed?

The use of farm equipment twice a year sounds generous and very accommodating. It certainly makes the work easier but takes away from the esoteric benefits that come from gardening.

But will there be any limit to the size of the equipment or the number of pieces? Will the tractor be a tandem six-wheel with a cab that sits 15 feet off the ground? Will it be using a 10-row disc harrow? How long will the equipment be allowed to remain on the property during these twice-yearly visits? Who will ensure compliance? Who will be responsible for ensuring children are not injured on idle equipment?

Finally, the ordinance states that grown produce may not be sold commercially but is intended for private use by those producing it. Who will ensure the produce does not find its way to the farmer’s market at the old courthouse on Main Street?

Should the ordinance address the use of herbicides and pesticides? Those used on land zoned agricultural may not be appropriate in residential neighborhoods and may not be suitable for storm water runoff into the tributaries of the Chesapeake Bay.

These issues and questions, as well as the naming of the responsible person for the entire garden operation, need to be addressed before we open up vacant lots in areas like Walnut Hills to some boys from Corapeake, N.C., to grow peas and tomatoes to take back home.

Doug Kincaid