Listen to Austin 360 Radio

Council passes urban farm restrictions, rejects ‘healthy food zones’

Addie Broyles

The Austin City Council tackled two controversial food measures at last night’s meeting, one that would restrict the kind of food that could be sold in school zones and another that would prohibit certain activities at urban farms located on single family-zoned properties.

In a 4-3 vote, the council rejected a proposal to develop a “healthy food zone ordinance,” which could have led to a ban of fast food restaurants near schools, parks, child care centers, libraries and recreation centers.

But hundreds of people packed into City Hall to show support on either side of another issue: proposed changes to the urban farm code, which has been in the news since the beginning of the year. More than 450 people had signed up to speak, but council limited the public input to just more than 30 minutes for each side.

After hearing from both opponents and supporters of the farms, which are mostly located in a small section of East Austin, council members voted on amendments to the proposed changes that had been presented to them by the Planning and Zoning Commission last month.

Ultimately, the council voted to reject the slaughter and composting of chickens and rabbits but to allow the harvesting of fish, a component of aquaponic farming, in single-family use zones. (This means that commercial animal processing is allowed in all other zones.) Council Member Mike Martinez was the only dissenting vote on the issue of slaughtering in single-family zones, arguing that “as we continue to work on sustainability as a long-term issue, we are going to have to address the issue of processing animals and composting.”

The other major change to the recommendations was to limit the number of events on urban farms zoned for single families to six events a year. Urban farms on commercially zoned properties like Springdale Farm can host some events that the others can’t, including weddings. The changes are set to take effect in March.