Weavers Way Co-op pleased urban farming provision removed from City Council bill

Members of the Weavers Way Co-op community are rejoicing after a provision of a City Council bill that -they said – would harm urban farming and agriculture was nixed from the measure.

Bill 129017, introduced by Tenth District City Councilman Brian O’Neil in mid-November, would revise 15 uses tied to areas zoned as CMX-2 and CMX-2.5 – mixed-use commercial corridors – under the city’s brand new zoning code.

One of those revisions would have required some community gardens and farms in the city to, among other things, obtain a variance to continue operating. The bill no longer includes that requirement, allowing city gardens and farms to operate by right.

Councilman O’Neil announced the amendment Wednesday via an internal email obtained by NewsWorks content partner Plan Philly.

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The bill will be amended during Thursday’s City Council session, according to the email. The rest of the bill is scheduled for a final vote Jan. 31.

O’Neil did not return calls requesting comment on the now-nixed provision.

‘ Serious obstacles’

On Tuesday night, Weavers Way released a press release celebrating the change.

“Philadelphians will continue to strive toward enhancing food access and providing structures through which communities can successfully reclaim land from blight,” wrote Jon McGoran, the co-op’s spokesperson.

Weavers Way, a longtime advocate of urban agriculture, operates a 2.5-acre farm at W.B. Saul High School of Agricultural Sciences in Roxborough.

McGoran said the site, which houses a community-supported agriculture program, would not have been affected by the bill, but noted that the cooperative rallied against the bill for the community’s sake.

That rally, one of many spearheaded by urban farming advocates across the city, included meetings with City Councilmembers, including Eighth District City Councilwoman Cindy Bass, and a Facebook campaign entitled “Campaign for Healthier Foods and Greener Spaces.”

Bass represents most of Northwest Philadelphia, including Mount Airy and Chestnut Hill, where Weavers Way operates two markets.

McGoran said the bill would have made gardeners and farmers jump through too many hoops.

“This bill [would] erect some pretty serious obstacles to 20 percent of the farms in the city,” he said. “The bill [would] require a special acceptation, $250 in fees, legal reps, hearings and a lot of paper work just to garden.”

McGoran added that the bill comes at the wrong time—in the wake of the city’s four-year zoning code overhaul project.

“This bill would undermine what that does,” he said. “They were going to redo the zoning code and after a year revisit and tweak, but less than four months after it was finished O’Neil introduced this amendment.”

Northwest Philadelphia impact

Prior to the bill’s amendment, Bass said she supported the bill, despite the community’s opposition to the urban farming section.

Bass spokesman Joe Corrigan said the bill would not have really affected urban farming and gardening in Mount Airy and other nearby communities.

“They are about 32 community gardens and urban farms in our district and only three of them will be affected by this bill,” said Corrigan prior to Wednesday’s announcement. “They’re three big ones, but we’re willing to work with groups to get them the variances on day one.”

He added that, overall, the bill would prevent some perhaps unwanted businesses – gas stations, transit stations or auto repair shops, for example – from opening without the support of a civic zoning board.

Ralph Pinkus, chair of West Mt. Airy Neighbors’ zoning board, echoed Corrigan’s sentiments.

“These two classifications where change is proposed are areas of mixed commercial and residential use, which frequently are areas that are central to the community. Perhaps allowing for community input is appropriate,” he noted.

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