BRA Proposes New Urban Agriculture Rules

The recently released draft document sets standards in Boston for bee- and hen-keeping, composting, rooftop farms and other activities.


After more than a year of discussions, the city has published a draft document outlining new rules for urban agriculture in Boston.

From the keeping of hens and honey bees to regulation of composting, aquaculture, rooftop farms and farmers markets, the new document sets standards for a variety of urban agriculture activities that are not currently addressed in Boston’s zoning code.

The Boston Redevelopment Authority, Mayor’s Office of Food Initiatives and Mayor’s Urban Agriculture Rezoning Working Group have been meeting monthly since January 2012 to work on the document.

The new regulations, Article 89 of the Boston Zoning Code, will “create clarity and predictability for anyone interested in commercial food growing and creating farms in Boston,” according to a statement on the BRA website.

The BRA posted a list of reasons urban agriculture is good for Boston, including bringing neighbors together, improving access to fresh, healthy food, environmental benefits and educational opportunities.

The BRA is encouraging Boston residents to review the proposed guidelines and provide feedback over the summer. A series of neighborhood meetings on urban agriculture will be scheduled in the coming months, and residents can follow the conversation using the Twitter hashtag #UrbanAgBos.

The new zoning regulations set standards for the “siting, design, maintenance and modification of urban agriculture activities that address public safety and minimize impacts on residents and historic resources in the City of Boston,” according to the document’s Statement of Purpose.

Some highlights from the draft regulations:

• Small and medium ground-level urban farms will be allowed in all city districts and subdistricts, while large ground-level farms—greater than one acre in size—are allowed only in industrial districts and as a conditional use, with special permit, in all other districts.

• Rooftop farms of all sizes will be allowed by right in the city’s industrial and institutional districts, but rooftop farms of more than 5,000 sq. ft. are conditional in all other districts and subdistricts.

• Most ground-level urban farms that are more than 10,000 sq. ft. in size must undergo a Comprehensive Farm Review process to make sure they are designed in a way that fits with the surrounding neighborhood. Rooftop farms larger than 5,000 sq. ft. must also go through the CFR process, with some exceptions for farms being placed in industrial and institutional districts.

• Accessory composting will be allowed where any ground-level urban farm or rooftop urban farm is permitted. Ground-level composting structures must not exceed 10 feet in height and all must not cover more than 5 percent of the lot and must be enclosed and out of direct contact with flammable materials.

• Article 89 does not regulate whether the keeping of bees or hens is allowed in certain districts—that is already outlined in the city’s Base Code. But the new document does set some rules for that use, including the prohibition of on-site slaughtering, a no-rooster policy and a limit of six hens and six non-egg-laying chickens per site.

• A maximum of two honey bee hives will be allowed on any given lot or roof for personal consumption of honey bee products, while three hives will be allowed on an urban farm. Hives will be limited to 5 feet in height and 20 feet in length, and any hive located within 20 feet of the principal building on an abutting lot must have written permission from the neighboring property owner. All hives must be registered with the Massachusetts Department of Agricultural Resources.

• Aquaculture and aquaponics facilities, which are concerned with the cultivation of aquatic animals and plants, will be allowed in all industrial districts and in waterfront manufacturing, waterfront service and waterfront commercial districts and will be conditional in all commercial and institutional districts. These facilities will be forbidden in all other city districts.

• Hydroponics facilities, which grow plants using a mechanical system that circulates a solution of minerals in water, will be allowed in all industrial, institutional and commercial districts and will be conditional in all others.

• Unless part of an urban farm and subject to Comprehensive Farm Review, all new aquaculture, aquaponic and hydroponic structures and additions by more than 750 sq. ft. will be subject to BRA design review.

• Farmers markets and farm stands selling horticultural and agricultural products or distributing Community Supported Agriculture shares will be allowed as a primary use on lots where retail is allowed by the underlying zoning rules and will be conditional for areas where retail is not allowed by the underlying zoning rules. Farmers markets will be allowed as an accessory use on lots in all industrial, institutional, commercial and multi-family residential districts.

• All farmers markets will require a permit from the city’s Inspectional Services Department—Division of Health Inspections.


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