Goats, sheep may be your new neighbors under proposed city code for urban agriculture
Growing and raising your own food can be “empowering” — and vital for some households in achieving food security, said Helen Schnoes, food systems coordinator for Douglas County.
And now, Lawrence residents are close to getting more options for what they can grow, what animals they can raise, and how they can distribute their homegrown goods. The Lawrence City Commission will soon review guidelines for urban agriculture that would allow, among other things, goats, sheep and bee colonies within city limits.
“It’s in line with a national conversation on what it means to produce food in the city,” Schnoes said. “Nothing is out of line with other cities when thinking about how to support citizens’ interest in expanding local food systems and allowing for small-scale urban farming production. But we’re putting our own unique Lawrence spin on it because we’re Lawrence, and that’s what we do.”
The City Commission tasked Lawrence’s planning staff with creating a set of urban agriculture codes back in June. At the time, code enforcement had found violations at a property in East Lawrence, where the owner had established an urban agriculture operation.
Mary Miller, a city planner working on the project, said the current city code is mostly mum about what residents can do agriculturally.
“There was a lot of back-and-forth about what you could and couldn’t do, and our code is pretty silent,” Miller said. “I think that’s why they wanted us to have clear standards.”
After nearly a year of creating and revising the amendments to city code, they passed the Lawrence-Douglas County Planning Commission on Feb. 22. They’ll go to the City Commission for a final determination in early April.
Miller worked with the Douglas County Food Policy Council in drafting the changes, which include provisions for growing and harvesting crops and keeping small animals.
Both the food policy council and the city used surveys to find out what should be allowed.
“There were a lot of people, they just had a lot of interests,” Miller said. “Some people wanted to raise crickets, crawdads and fish. Some people wanted small horses, but that seemed a stretch. I did find several cities that had miniature goats; only a few have miniature sheep.”
Around the same time the city was looking to add agriculture uses, a group of people had formed to lobby for beekeeping within city limits. The current city code says nothing about beekeeping. Because of that, those asking if they could have colonies in Lawrence have been told it’s not allowed, Miller said.
Emily Ryan, a Lawrence resident who was part of the beekeeping movement, said the group decided to try to wrap beekeeping into the newly permitted uses.
“We are, in the world, facing a huge problem with the loss of pollinators,” Ryan said. “So I think doing every little bit we can to encourage people to understand that bees are essential to our ecosystem and production of all food is a good thing. And then let people take a step further and be part of the process.”
Besides bee colonies, the proposed changes allow for “bee hotels.” Bee hotels are places for solitary pollinators to make their nests, similar to how birds use birdhouses, Miller said.
Through the process of working on the changes, there has been some concern about how neighbors would react to agricultural operations within the city.
The changes would allow for animal slaughter and the sale of homegrown goods at Lawrence residences — both things the Lawrence-Douglas County Planning Commission questioned.
In a Lawrence Listens survey on the issue, some responded by saying animal slaughter would be too difficult to regulate.
More rules about slaughtering and butchering animals were added, including that animals may only be butchered for personal use, and it has to be done outside of public view.
There was also the concern among some planning commissioners that allowing people to sell goods at their residences may clog residential streets. But it was decided to “give it a try” and see whether parking became an issue, Miller said.
“We don’t want to be imposing an undue nuisance on neighbors,” Schnoes said.
Schnoes went on to say the changes were “amenable to a neighborhood environment.”
Moon on the Meadow Farm, a 3-acre plot that includes Jill Elmers’ home and growing operation, lies just within city limits off East 11th Street — meaning it has to follow city rules.
The property, which Elmers uses to make her living, would officially be recognized by the city as an urban farm under the proposed changes.
Urban farms — as opposed to those following the new urban agriculture guidelines — would require special-use permits. They’re only allowed in some residential zoning, while urban agriculture is allowed in all residential zoning where space allows.
The designation doesn’t create much change for Elmers, but as a local grower and a member of the food policy council, she’s supporting the effort to pass the new rules.
“I feel like a lot of my conversations at market now focus on helping people grow things, not questions about what they’re buying,” Elmers said. “Which is fine, I love that people are growing their own food. That’s fantastic.
“This is intended not to limit people, but to give them more range of what they could do in the city.”
If the amendments are approved, the food policy council will do outreach to teach people what they’re allowed to do, Schnoes said.
“We’ll have training on how to be successful at urban agriculture endeavors,” Schnoes said. “We’re all on board and excited to see where the creativity of Lawrence residents takes this.”
The proposed changes to city code make clear what kind of agricultural operations Lawrence residents are allowed to have on their properties. Here’s a rundown of the major changes. Each of the following requires certain space requirements, structures and maintenance in order to be permitted. For more information on what’s proposed, see the attached document on LJWorld.com.
• Miniature goats and sheep
Lawrence residents with at least 10,000 square feet of property can own two goats or two sheep, and those with 20,000 square feet or more can have four goats or four sheep. You cannot own only one goat or one sheep. Mary Miller, city planner, said goats and sheep are “very social,” and it’s inhumane to have only one.
Residents can own two bee colonies on a lot that’s one-fourth acre or smaller. Lots between one-fourth and one-half acre may have four bee colonies, and six colonies are allowed with properties between one-half and one acre. Eight colonies are permitted on properties larger than one acre. Africanized honeybees are not permitted.
Ducks and hens have been allowed in city limits since 2012. Current city code states one duck or hen for every 500 square feet is permitted, and up to 20 ducks or hens are allowed without the need for a special-use permit. Roosters are not allowed.
• Other animals
Other crustaceans, insects and fish are also allowed under the proposed “small animal agriculture” land use, including crickets, worms, rabbits and crayfish.
• Animal slaughter
Animals listed above may be slaughtered and butchered on-site for personal use. It has to be done out of public view.
Lawrence residents may grow crops, as long as they’re shorter than 3 feet when they’re located within 8 feet from a road or 3 feet from a sidewalk. Hoop houses, greenhouses, composting, waste bins and rain barrel systems are allowed.
• Agriculture sales
Unprocessed goods — such as eggs, honey, produce and flowers — can be sold at Lawrence residences and other places, including schools, religious institutions, libraries and day care centers. The goods must have been produced on-site, and sales may only occur between 8 a.m. and 8 p.m.
• Urban farms
Agriculture within city limits that is operated primarily as business and exceeds what’s allowed under the new urban agriculture guidelines is an urban farm. Urban farms, which are allowed only in some residentially zoned areas, will have to register with the city for a special-use permit.