Many of our best community gardens are quite underwhelming and certainly not the work of any self-respecting landscape architect. Mulch paths crisscrossed by plastic irrigation tubing. A pile of dirt needing attention. An unimposing wooden coop held together by chicken-wire. A wheelbarrow with a flat tire. Beautifully messy places nevertheless. Everything has a purpose and works harmoniously for the sake of food production in a communal setting.
The seemingly endless community garden briefings are a stark contrast to community gardening in August in Texas. Earth and hot sun traded for the air conditioned chambers of I.M. Pei’s cement City Hall. Coop is no longer spelled with a “c.” It’s spelled with a “K” and refers to the Honorable Linda L. Koop, who will be presiding over the 2pm, Tuesday, August 12 meeting of the Transportation and Environment Committee where Option 6 for community gardens will be presented.
This newest option proposes that the Development Code be amended to explicitly allow community gardens on vacant lots. That’s exactly what community gardeners have been requesting since City Hall first briefed the Committee last March. It was called Option 1. So why won’t gardeners be happy? Well, there are three little requirements in the fine print which amount to overregulation, overregulation, and overregulation.
The first requirement to operate a community garden under Option 6 is a written statement presented to the building official signed by the property owner affirming that the operator has the permission of the property owner to use the property as a community garden. Why all of the hoops? Criminal and civil trespass laws already exist. Surely, the existing trespass laws are preventing rogue community gardening.
The second requirement is a site plan that must be approved by the building official. Gardeners should remember to show the location and dimensions of the property and location and type of all existing and proposed landscaping, including plants. According to the City, the purpose of submitting a site plan is to allow the building official to identify code problems with your project early, so that the problems may be worked out before applying for a building permit or building.
But what are you going to build? If there is a greenhouse or other structure planned as part of your community garden, then there already is a well defined process for permitting and building. A site plan for tomatoes, corn, and other vegetables doesn’t have a purpose. After all, relocating a tomato plant isn’t the same as moving a wall.
The third requirement is an annual permitting fee of $215. The fee is annual because City Staff wants the building official to review and permit your community garden each year. A fee for fee’s sake. As we have said before, we should be thankful that we have community gardeners willing to transform vacant lots into gardens.
In fact, in a city-sized monument to overregulation, at noon on the very same Tuesday, many of the same Committee members will be attending the Quality of Life briefing regarding the problems in Dallas with illegal dumping violations on vacant lots. Problem at noon and citizens contributing to a no-cost-to-the-City solution at 2pm. Only overregulation stands in the way.