Fairfax County wants to make it easier for locals to garden and for farmers markets to operate.
As the county gets denser, residents are finding new ways to get in touch with their green thumb. A series of zoning changes planned for discussion at Wednesday’s Planning Commission meeting would loosen restrictions around gardening and farmers markets.
The proposals would create a new “community garden” use in the zoning code. These gardens could be located on either the ground floor or rooftop, and could be considered common open space by right, meaning no additional zoning requirements would be required for approval.
According to the staff report on the amendment:
By expanding the definition of open space to include community gardens, homeowners or condominium associations will be able to establish community gardens subject to the proposed use standards… Similarly, the proposed amendment permits non-residential developments, such as places of worship, office, and other commercial and industrial developments, schools, etc. to establish community gardens by right as accessory uses in open space, subject to the proposed use standards.
Analysis of community gardens by Fairfax County showed that most occupy less than 2 acres of land, but gardens proposed above 2 acres could still be approved with a special permit from the Board of Zoning Appeals.
The changes also remove a restriction that only allows gardens on side or rear yards of single-family residential lots. Gardens could be allowed in front yards, provided they are no closer than 15 feet to the front of the lot and limited to 10 square feet in area.
The zoning changes would also loosen up restrictions on farmers markets.
Currently, farmers markets are a temporary special permit with what the report calls “significant restrictions.” They are currently only permitted to sell seasonal or perishable produce between April and November, and only on lots that front arterial streets.
But the report recognizes that farmers markets have evolved substantially since those regulations were written and have expanded to food beyond just produce.
The new regulations would permit farmers markets for two-year periods and allow year-round operation. The markets would also be allowed to operate away from major roads, a rule that the staff report said half of the existing markets ignore anyway.
The only restriction on merchandise at farmers markets would be that items for sale must be farm products or products derived from a farm, such as salsa using ingredients from a farm.
The changes are planned to go to the Board of Supervisors on June 25, and if approved, could take effect by 12:01 a.m. the day after adoption.
“Staff believes that this amendment provides a balanced approach to providing easier access to fresh, healthy food to residents in all areas of the county,” staff said in the report, “while ensuring that the uses of community gardens, farmers markets and residential gardening are established to be good neighbors.”
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