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Austin's Urban Farm Proposals Have Some Neighbors Crying Foul

After dishing the dirt for months, new regulations are in the offing for Austin's urban farms.

Last week, Austin’s Planning Commission recommended a set of revisions to the city’s urban farm ordinance. And while the proposed changes would establish stricter criteria on raising some livestock, some East Austin residents say the proposals don’t go far enough.

Under the current Land Development Code, urban farms are defined as any one to five acre single-dwelling establishment that grows and sells agricultural products. Restrictions are relatively lax: urban farms are allowed on any plot zoned for single-family use in Austin’s Desired Development Zone.

In a move to create greater clarity on farm uses, the Planning Commission has approved the following classifications:

  • Urban farms: Urban farms would continue to exist as plots of at least one acre. They could raise chickens, rabbits and fish, slaughter them at a ratio based on acreage and sell them on site.

  • Market gardens: These would be agricultural spaces of less than one acre whose sales could not exceed three customer trips per day. They would be allowed to raise chickens, rabbits and fish, but not slaughter them onsite. If no house exists on the property a conditional use is required. 

  • Urban farm with gatherings: Urban farms that are granted a conditional use permit.  The farms are allowed to host events like weddings and fundraisers. 

Conditional use permits would be granted by the Planning Commission after notice is given to all neighbors within 500 feet and a public hearing is held. The definitions would also clean up current language in the code.
The commission decided against recommending one additional category: Urban farm with livestock. This category would have allowed raising – but not processing – larger animals: sheep, goats and pigs.

Troubles surrounding Austin’s urban farms arose last November when some farms were shut down over a wrinkle in the current code: language that only one dwelling is allowed on a farm site. (Proposed revisions would cap a limit on dwellings reflecting surrounding standards.)

However, the issues that initially brought attention to Austin’s urban farms – animal slaughter, composting and the commercialization of communities in East Austin – hasn’t gone away.

In a letter to the city council, Daniel Llanes, chair of the Govalle/Johnston Terrace neighborhood contact team, said urban farms engage in “commercial slaughtering of animals … composting their body parts in a residential neighborhood.” The ordinance, he argues, “has the potential to adversely affect the affordable housing for poor and work class communities of color in East Austin.” In a statement before the Planning Commission, Llanes further stressed his point that “this is not about urban farms; this is about zoning and urban farms … are a commercial operation.”

Recommendations proposed by the neighborhood contact team include a ban the slaughter of animals within the city limits, a minimum farm size of one to two acres, and more.

So far, none of the team’s points have been adopted. But that could change when the Austin City Council takes the issue up Oct. 17, with a public hearing and possible adoption of new urban farm rules.

Credit City of Austin
Of 29 potential urban farm and market garden sites, 23 are located in East Austin.

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