Planning Commission Minutes 09-11-2014

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                                                 CITY OF MUSKEGON
     DRAFT                                     PLANNING COMMISSION
                                                 REGULAR MEETING

                                                   September 11, 2014

Chairman T. Michalski called the meeting to order at 4:01 p.m. and roll was taken.

MEMBERS PRESENT:                        T. Michalski, B. Larson, L. Spataro, B. Mazade, S. Gawron, S. Wisneski, F.

MEMBERS ABSENT:                         J. Doyle, excused; B. Smith

STAFF PRESENT:                          M. Franzak, C. Brubaker-Clarke, D. Renkenberger

OTHERS PRESENT:                         M. Landis, Parmenter-O’Toole; M. Bear, 529 Houston Ave; C. Burnaw,
                                        1475 Westwood Dr; C. McGuigan, Community Foundation for Muskegon
                                        County; Marcia Hovey-Wright, Muskegon resident and State Represen-
                                        tative; J. EldenBrady, 1336 Spring St.; C. Price, 1351 W. Summit; C.
                                        Yothers, 1239 Terrace; V. Riegler, 1187 Washington, for Unity Church of
                                        Muskegon; R. Hesselink, 1187 Woodcrest; D. Warren, 126 Washington,
                                        Grand Haven MI


A motion that the minutes of the regular meeting of July 10, 2014 be approved, was made by S. Gawron,
supported by F. Peterson and unanimously approved.


Hearing, Case 2014-11: Staff-initiated request to amend Section 2313 (Community Gardens) of the
zoning ordinance to replace it with an urban farming ordinance. C. Brubaker-Clarke provided background
information on the history of community gardens and urban farming in the City of Muskegon. She stated
that City staff and the City Attorney had spoken with many experts in this area to come up with the
proposed ordinances presented to the Commission for their recommendation.
M. Franzak presented the staff report. There are some community garden organizations in the City who are
working with schools and other non-profit organizations to donate/sell vegetables for their lunch programs.
The current community gardens ordinance does not allow for the sale/donation of crops. This new
ordinance will better define what can be sold/donated. It will also better define what types of structures
will be allowed on site and defines the setback requirements. The Planning Commission is being asked to
recommend one of the two versions to the City Commission for adoption: One version will allow
commercial sales and one version will prohibit commercial sales. The version that prohibits commercial
sales would still allow urban farms to accept donations from individuals or other non-profit organizations,
as long as they are used to further sustain the operation and support the mission of the urban farm. City
attorney Michelle Landis was present at the meeting to discuss the details of the Michigan Right to Farm
Act, Generally Accepted Agricultural and Management Practices (GAAMPs), and other aspects that may
come into play under the new ordinance. Planning Commissioners were provided with the current
Community Gardens ordinance and two versions of the proposed Community Gardens, Urban Farms and
Private Farms ordinance (one allowing commercial sales and one prohibiting commercial sales).
M. Franzak distributed to board members written comments he had received: Love Community Garden’s
Planning Commission Minutes – 9/11/14                                                                             1
(LCG) letter indicated that they are not satisfied with several requirements of either version of the
ordinance, and they submitted a proposed ordinance of their own; The Community Foundation and
HEALTHY Muskegon team submitted a letter in support of an urban farming ordinance that permitted the
sale of produce. M. Franzak stated that setbacks were an important consideration in urban farming, in
order to keep tall crops from blocking the view of the street, and for safety reasons. B. Mazade asked how
the ordinance proposed by LCG differed from the City’s proposed ordinances. M. Franzak stated that the
main differences had to do with setbacks and structures. B. Larson asked who would enforce the
ordinance. M. Franzak stated that Planning staff would, similar to the way community gardens are
currently handled. B. Larson asked if the ordinance would encourage or discourage farming. M. Franzak
stated that the ordinance would merely lay out requirements to be followed for urban farms.
M. Landis stated that the major issue was the state’s Right to Farm Act (RFA), and whether it would apply
to urban farms in the City if commercial sales were allowed. If it did apply, it would take away local
government’s ability to regulate the farms. She stated that GAAMPs were geared toward large farms,
regulating things such as livestock and pesticides. Most of the regulations listed in the proposed City
ordinance are not addressed in GAAMPs. L. Spataro asked if the City would still be able to regulate
livestock if the state asserted control under the RTF Act. M. Landis stated that a recent update to the
GAAMPs gave local municipalities the right to regulate livestock. L. Spataro was also concerned with
possible run-offs that may affect Muskegon Lake, since there had been so much effort put into getting the
lake delisted as an area of concern. M. Landis stated that the legal concern was whether a local
municipality could craft an ordinance to reflect local and specific needs of the community, and if allowing
commercial farming would allow the state to take control. B. Mazade asked if commercial farming
referred to sales. M. Landis stated that was correct—any sales would be viewed as commercial farming.
T. Michalski asked if adopting the ordinance that disallowed commercial sales would exempt the City from
outside controls. M. Landis stated that was correct—the state Right to Farm Act would not apply if
commercial sales were not allowed.
The board listened to several comments during the public hearing, all of which supported allowing
commercial sales of produce from urban farms. M. Bear spoke on behalf of Love Community Garden
(LCG), who had been in existence for almost 10 years. She stated that they have always complied with
City ordinance requirements, and she was disappointed that LCG was not asked to be involved in the
process of crafting the new ordinance. She stated that allowing commercial sales of their produce would
create more jobs, and was essential to keeping the garden sustainable. She disagreed with some
requirements listed in the ordinances proposed by the City, including the side setbacks and the fencing-in of
portable toilet facilities. C. Burnaw stated that she was an advocate for a healthy Muskegon, and was in
favor of allowing commercial sales. She cited the potential to create jobs, introducing people to healthy
eating habits, and sustainability of the farms as reasons to allow sales of produce. C. McGuigan
represented the Community Foundation for Muskegon County. She stated that the Foundation had
partnered with several health initiatives involving farming or gardening, and has provided grants as well.
She stated that the organizations all had a goal of selling their produce, and urged the board members to
recommend approval of the version of the ordinance allowing commercial sales. She asked that the process
be paused to allow input from community farmers and others with an interest in promoting a healthy
community. J. EldenBrady was in favor of allowing farmers to sell their produce. He had applied for a
business license to do that but was denied, and he was now going through the appeal process. He stated
that there was inconsistency in the way urban farms were handled, and he was hopeful that the City would
encourage farming, not try to discourage it with an ordinance that was unclear or confusing. C. Price stated
that she had an extensive background in urban farming policy. She was in favor of allowing commercial
sales so that the farms could be self-supporting. She stated that the sample ordinance submitted by LCG
was an excellent example of an urban farming ordinance. C. Yothers of McLaughlin Grows stated that
commercial sales were crucial to a garden’s sustainability, and hoped that Muskegon would become a
leader in urban farming. Rep. M. Hovey-Wright stated that she was on the agricultural committee in
Lansing, and that it was important to encourage local farming. She stated that the City of Detroit’s urban
farming ordinance was a good model to use, and she provided a copy of that to staff. M. Hovey-Wright
Planning Commission Minutes – 9/11/14                                                                      2
urged staff and the Planning Commissioners to support urban farms, including allowing the sale of produce.
She stated that farms helped neighbors connect, which was important for the health of cities. V. Riegler
submitted a letter from Unity Church of Muskegon in support of allowing commercial produce sales,
stating that community gardens were beneficial to cities in many ways. R. Hesselink discussed food hubs
and food miles, and was in favor of allowing commercial sales of urban farms produce. She cited local
spending, job creation and supporting local businesses as reasons to allow commercial sales. D. Warren
was a dietician and she was also in favor of allowing commercial sales. She stated that the urban farms
could bring energy and jobs to Muskegon. She also stated that when applying for grants, the grantors
always wanted to know how the project would be sustainable, and allowing sales of produce could
accomplish that.
M. Landis responded to some legal issues that were brought up. She stated that the amendment to
GAAMPs that was mentioned applied only to livestock, not to produce. Regarding the City of Detroit,
although she did speak to someone from there when researching the City of Muskegon’s proposed
ordinance, GAAMPs do not apply to cities with population over 100,000. Therefore, Detroit did not have
to deal with that issue, as Muskegon does. She reiterated that she had spoken to top officials at the
Department of Agriculture, and it was clear that the state Right to Farm Act would apply if the City of
Muskegon allowed commercial sales of produce. This would, in turn, usurp local authority to regulate
farms in our community.
A motion to close the public hearing was made by B. Larson, supported by S. Wisneski and unanimously
L. Spataro agreed that additional due diligence on this issue would be helpful. He stated that it was not
about the City being for or against urban farming. The City had an obligation to ensure a livable
community for all residents, and any commercial activity in a residential setting could have an adverse
impact on people living there, including noise and traffic concerns. Therefore, it was important that the
City be allowed to regulate the urban farms, and balance the needs of its residents. He suggested sending
the issue back to staff for additional review. Board members discussed the process desired to come up with
a revised ordinance to present. T. Michalski stated that he was in favor of allowing commercial sales, but
had concerns about issues such as soil contamination. He asked board members to communicate their
comments and concerns to staff before the next meeting. B. Mazade stated that the major issue was to
allow commercial sales or not, and he suggested getting a sample ordinance distributed to Planning
Commissioners to review first, before having another public hearing. C. Brubaker stated that the City did
not have the time nor the staff to monitor things like soil contamination, and that was taken into
consideration when drafting the ordinances presented today. S. Wisneski was also concerned about the
inequalities of non-profit agencies competing with for-profit businesses, who had additional regulatory and
tax restrictions. He also asked if the Health Department would need to be involved if sales were allowed.
A motion that this case be tabled until a future meeting so that staff could collect input and do further
research on this issue was made by B. Larson, supported by L. Spataro and unanimously approved.




There being no further business, the meeting was adjourned at 5:20 p.m.
Planning Commission Minutes – 9/11/14                                                                    3

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