Livingstone lacks approval for planned urban farm

Published 12:00 am Friday, May 30, 2014

SALISBURY — Livingstone College has clear-cut about 30 acres of forest as part of a plan to resurrect an urban farm that last operated in the early 1960s.
But Livingstone does not yet have approval from the city of Salisbury to farm the property on Locke Street just off Milford Hills Road near Brenner Avenue.
The college asked the city on May 16 to add the use of agriculture to the institutional campus, or IC, zoning district. Salisbury Planning Board on Tuesday sent the request to a committee with no recommendation from city staff.
Adding agriculture to the district would allow farming not only on Livingstone’s property but in all IC zoning across the city, said Preston Mitchell, the city’s Planning and Development Services manager.
Because the request is unusual and has far-reaching implications, city staff did not feel it was appropriate to throw out ideas about how it should be handled, Mitchell said. Instead, he suggested a committee should work through the text amendment request with Livingstone.
Livingstone also submitted to the city plans for a 4-acre urban farm on Locke Street, about the size of a city block. The college will start preparing the site and plans to plant crops as soon as the city grants approval, with hopes for a fall harvest, said Joe Fowler, a consultant for Livingstone.
While Livingstone owns about 140 acres of forest in the area, the college has no immediate plans to clear-cut additional property, Fowler said.
Livingstone included all of the woodlands in a forest management plan completed April 16 by the N.C. Forest Service. The college can clear-cut the forests it has owned for decades at any time.
According to the plan, Livingstone put the woodlands into the forest manangement program to generate income and possibly improve wildlife habitat while avoiding negative public reaction.
The forests are divided into three areas:
• Area 1, about 70 acres of mixed hardwood and loblolly pine that straddles Brenner Avenue and also includes a stand of trees on the west side of Jake Alexander Boulevard, where Brenner ends.
This includes the property that the college recently clear-cut, part of about 45 acres on the Harris Teeter side of Brenner Avenue bound by Brenner, Locke and Milford Hills Road and homes that face Old Plank Road, site of the original farm.
• Area 2, about 9 acres of 39-year-old loblolly pine on the west side of Jake Alexander Boulevard where Brenner ends.
• Area 3, about 60 acres of 8-year-old mixed hardwood, also on the west side of Jake Alexander Boulevard.
Because the college has a forest management plan, the city’s landscape ordinance and clear-cutting rules do not apply unless Livingstone does not complete a regeneration plan for replanting or natural regrowth, Mitchell said.
Fowler said the college plans to replant about 15 acres and farm 4 acres. The college will propose a new building at the corner of Brenner Avenue and Milford Hills Road that would house the school’s culinary arts program, he said.
The farm would create a living classroom for students to learn agriculture management, he said. College leaders hope the farm will provide food for the culinary program and also the cafeteria.
If the city does not approve agriculture use on the site, Fowler said the college would replant the entire property. He said the college harvested the timber to raise money for the farm program but declined to say how much Livingstone made on the sale of the trees.
Fowler said he had discussed with Mitchell the possibility that Livingstone would harvest trees this fall on the Aldi side of Brenner Avenue but those plans have changed.
Fowler said Livingstone was careful to leave a buffer of trees around streams and between the clear-cutting and houses.
“Many people walk on Locke Street and we worked hard to leave a canopy of good, mature trees for them,” he said.
The college had to clear-cut all the way to Brenner Avenue and Milford Hills Road, however, because of the future culinary arts building, Fowler said.
The college put all three areas in the forest management plan to allow for future clear-cutting.
“A lot of folks don’t realize that trees are a farm product to be harvested,” he said. “They are a genuine, managed product.”
The next step will be the conservation plan that will outline the farming operation and erosion controls, he said.
Mitchell said he encouraged Livingstone to request a rezoning instead of a text amendment. Rezoning just the 45-acre parcel to open space preservation would still allow farming and move more quickly through the city’s approval process, he said.
But Fowler said Livingstone wants the property to remain as currently zoned to accommodate future buildings and educational uses the college plans for the parcel.
“It’s in IC now, and for college purposes and educational purposes, it needs to stay IC,” he said.
He said adding farming to IC would not have far-reaching implications and institutions like Rowan-Cabarrus Community College may want to farm their property as well.
“This is new to city folks,” Fowler said.
When the city’s 2020 Vision Plan was created, no one predicted a desire to farm within the city limits, he said. Livingstone will have the largest organic urban farm in the state, he said.
While Livingstone waits for city approval, the college will start gardening on the main campus.
“We plan to get the summer school involved and give students a square foot to prepare them for a square acre,” Fowler said.
Three residents who happened to be home Thursday on Fairmont Avenue, which backs up to the property that Livingstone clear-cut, said they support the college’s plan.
“It’s their property,” said one woman who did not want to be identified. “Let them do with it what they want to.”
Nancy Lippard said she is excited about the farm and thought the area along Locke Street was overgrown anyway.
Bill Anderson, 84, said he remembers cornfields on the original farm and looks forward to agriculture returning to the property.
“If they put the farm like they say they are going to, then it’s fine,” said Anderson, who added he would be opposed to building apartments on the property.
He also liked the idea of a one-mile walking trail around the farm. Anderson’s only criticism: the college did not leave enough buffer between the clear-cutting and Locke Street.

Contact reporter Emily Ford at 704-797-4264.