Environmental overlay for Manatawna Farm passes City Council

City Council unanimously passed a zoning bill Thursday that bans commercial farming or an expansion of community gardens at Roxborough’s Manatawna Farm.

The farm is managed by Fairmount Park. Much of the land is currently used to raise hay for Saul High School agricultural students’ animals. The city’s Parks and Rec department had hoped to take five-plus acres out of hay production and find farmers to run 10 small-scale urban farms on the site. This would not be allowed under the new zoning law.

The Planning Commission recently recommended that council not adopt the bill, saying the overlay it creates would be redundant. The farm’s underlying zoning is residential, so no commercial farming is allowed, and parks and rec would have needed a variance to bring on the for-profit farms, the commission said. Despite that input from city planners,  council’s rules committee approved the ordinance, passing it on to council for today’s vote.

But now, parks and rec would need zoning relief both from the overlay and the underlying zoning to proceed.

Advocates for the bill have said cutting part of the hayfield would result in a loss of important grassland habitat used by animals and birds, and that losing the hay acreage would be detrimental to Saul.

Opponents said the urban farm plan would help the city meet its urban farming goals, and bring more fruits and vegetables to under-served neighborhoods. They also said Saul students could learn about a kind of farming they could do without leaving Philadelphia.

Contact the reporter at kgates@planphilly.com

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