Friday, July 13, 2012

As of Right, Conditional, and Forbidden (City Hall recap)

Earlier this year, Mayor Menino and the Boston Redevelopment Authority established a working group of urban agriculture professionals, community leaders, and governmental employees that meet once every month at City Hall to propose a revision to the zoning code. The first meeting was a public forum held downtown at Suffolk University as was keynoted by Will Allen of Growing Power.

The revision to the code is known as Article 89 and is slated to be presented to the City at hearings by February of 2013. These working group meetings give some incite and transparency to the process, and have steadily become more heavily attended. We had a news crew at the meeting this week.

For the purposes of our project, I've highlighted some elements of the current discussion around aquaponics:

Currently, aquaponics is not currently addressed in the Boston Zoning Code and is therefore a
'forbidden' use.  Forbidden actually means that the operation must to go through a more lengthy series of approvals for a zoning waiver - including a public hearing, a design review, and a code review.

The proposal presented by the BRA's working group to amend the code is as follows:

(b) Aquaponics facilities shall be subject to the
following use regulations:
(i) In all manufacturing and industrial subdistricts,
aquaponics facilities including the onsite
processing of food shall be Allowed.

(ii) In all commercial subdistricts that do not
contain residential uses, aquaponics facilities
up to 5,000 square excluding on site
processing of food shall be Allowed and
aquaponics facilities up to 25,000 sf excluding
on site processing of food shall be Conditional.

iii) In all residential subdistricts, aquaponics
facilities that are accessory to an Urban Farm
shall be Conditional.  (yes!)

All aquaculture, aquaponics and hydroponics
facilities greater than 2,000 sf in any commercial
district and industrial subdistricts shall be subject
to Comprehensive Farm Review

What the proposal means for our project:

The reality is that our 256 square foot project is below the threshold of and can be considered personal use within an accessory structure. The building setbacks and height restrictions that apply to these structures has been strictly adhered to in our design process.

The fact that our tiny project is communal and that the products of the project will be sold for profit at the Frederick Douglass Market does raises some code issues.

Ultimately,  the system will take a year to produce edible fish, and we will have new regulations in place at that time to have the aquaponics system (specifically the fish component) appropriately inspected before sale.

How much are we going to produce you might be asking? The vision of the pilot is to test just that - given our crop selection, geographic location, and our system/enclosure design. That said, check back soon to see some of our projections!

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