Law would allow residents to petition to ban urban farms
by BRIAN NADIG
A proposed ordinance regulating urban farms and the possible redevelopment of vacant lots at Harlem and Bryn Mawr avenues were discussed at the Sept. 26 meeting of the Big Oaks-Union Ridge Neighborhood Association.
Alderman Anthony Napolitano (41st) said that the ordinance would give residents the right to conduct a petition which could lead to the prohibition of residential livestock or urban farming in the precinct where they live, similar to how precincts can be voted "wet" or "dry" in terms of liquor sales.
If at least 25 percent of the registered voters in a precinct sign the petition, an alderman can then choose to introduce an ordnance which would call for a restricted residential zone in the precinct which could ban "all new or additional residential livestock, or both, or all new or additional urban farms, of both."
The ordinance also would ban roosters in residential districts and would require owners of residential properties where livestock is kept to acquire a city permit. Residents would be allowed to keep six fowl and two farm animals.
The intent of the law is not to stop the growing of vegetable gardens in backyards or to punish those who properly maintain their urban farms but to address problems in which some homeowners are keeping sheep, goats, and other livestock in their yards without keeping the area clean, leading to rodent problems, Napolitano said.
"We have to get ahead of this," Napolitano said. "If your community is fine with (your livestock), then you don’t have a problem. … If you’re not working well with your neighbors, they’d have the right to petition you out."
Napolitano, who is a co-sponsor of the ordinance with Alderman Ray Lopez (15th), said that given the increased popularity of urban farming, he expects a lot of pushback on the proposal when a public hearing is held. He said that a hearing date has not been set.
Revisions to the proposed ordinance are expected. "It’s a work in progress," he said.
Officials from the city Bureau of Rodent Control said at the meeting that they have been conducting bating missions near the intersection of Normandy Avenue and Strong Street in response to complaints about rats, reportedly due in part to a home with overgrown bushes and a variety of roaming animals outside.
"Rats are running in front of my bike, (and) I have dead rats on my driveway every other day," an area resident said.
Alderman Jim Gardiner (45th) asked association members to keep their yards free of debris to help hinder where rats can borough and to pick-up animal droppings which rats will eat. He added that leaky garbage carts should be replaced and said that new ones can be ordered through the ward office.
"Little things like that can make a difference," Gardiner said.
Also at the meeting, Napolitano said that new "For Sale" signs were posted several months ago at undeveloped parcels at the northeast and northwest corners of Harlem and Bryn Mawr and the northeast corner of Harlem and Talcott Avenue.
A developer has expressed interest in building retail or medical uses on the parcels but that no formal plans have been submitted. In the past, attempts to redevelop the sites have been met with strong community opposition.
Napolitano said after the meeting that some area residents have indicated that they would welcome a low-rise commercial development on the properties rather than a dense residential development.
At several recent community meetings Napolitano has expressed concerns that aldermen may not have as much control over local zoning matters as they once did.
Mayor Lori Lightfoot has sought an end to aldermanic prerogative, the longstanding practice of aldermen deferring to the opinion of the alderman whose ward would be most affected by a proposed development.
Currently, zoning remains a legislative process that is controlled by the 50 aldermen on the City Council and not the mayor.