Urban farms one step closer to reality in Salisbury

Published 12:00 am Wednesday, August 13, 2014

SALISBURY — Livingstone College’s idea to resurrect an urban farm off Brenner Avenue helped spur a flurry of interest from other groups that want to grow crops in the city limits.
Preston Mitchell, the city’s Development Services manager, told the Salisbury Planning Board on Tuesday that his department has taken a number of calls from people interested in starting urban farms in the city. One particularly enthusiastic caller wants to set up an aquaponics operation, Mitchell said.
“Our phones have been ringing about other local food activities,” he said.
Inquiries about urban farming are part of a recent uptick in development interest, he said. The number of projects being considered has not reached pre-2006 levels, and probably never will, but “things are beginning to pick up,” Mitchell said.
“We are really beginning to get some excitement and interest in things that we have never seen before in Salisbury,” he said.
Months ago, Livingstone asked the city to allow agriculture in areas zoned institutional campus after the college clear cut 40 acres of forest on Locke Street to fund and prepare for an urban farm. A Planning Board committee has been working with Livingstone to take an in-depth look at how to define urban farming and whether to allow it in parts of the city.
Because of the sudden interest in urban farming in different parts of town, Mitchell asked the Planning Board to consider adding agriculture in other zoning districts as well, including downtown, highway business (the city’s heavily commercial areas like Jake Alexander Boulevard near the car dealerships) and corridor mixed use (the city’s older commercial corridors like Main Street and Innes Street).
The Planning Board voted unanimously to recommend that City Council allow urban farming in seven zoning districts. In all but two districts, proposed urban farms would have to go through a public hearing and request a special use permit.
In the corridor mixed use and highway business districts, proposed urban farms would be permitted subject to additional standards but would not be required to go through a public hearing.
Urban farms in the downtown, corridor mixed use and highway business districts would be limited — only allowed inside a greenhouse and no livestock.
Although Livingstone had requested a simple text amendment that would have allowed agriculture by right in any area zoned institutional campus, city staff recommended the special use permit so most farms would go through a public vetting process. City Council can attach conditions such as additional buffers as part of the special use permit.
The committee specifically considered crop production, animal production and composting, which are addressed in the proposed code changes that will go before City Council.
No pigs would be allowed anywhere in the city, and the slaughter of animals would be allowed only in areas zoned limited industrial in a fully enclosed facility.
In general, urban farms in the city would not be for meat production, other than chicken, but by-products of animals like milk and eggs would be allowed in some areas.
Planning Board member Bill Burgin said he appreciated the conservative approach of city staff and supported requiring urban farms in more densely populated areas to be inside a greenhouse. Chicken manure smells, Burgin said.
Joe Fowler, the agriculture consultant for Livingstone, said the college supports the proposal.
“It’s going to fit with what Livingstone needs to do,” he said.
The college’s farm will be a model for other communities, Fowler added.
Urban farms, unlike community gardens, are intended for tourism, education, training or small-scale retail or wholesale operations.
Contact reporter Emily Ford at 704-797-4264.