Land Use & Planning

One of the most exciting things happening in Cleveland is the rise of community and market gardening within city limits. Urban agriculture is being viewed as a potential answer to the perplexing excess of vacant land, after the city’s population declined 50% in 50 years. Two of the Coalition’s most significant pieces of passed legislation – informally known as “Chickens and Bees” and “Urban Garden Zoning” – have sparked conversation about how many of the city’s 18,000 empty lots could be converted to for-profit farming operations. The legislation has drawn national attention and helped pave the way for similar legislation elsewhere. Our Land Use & Planning working group fosters these efforts through a variety of partnerships with City and County government, educational programs, and a range of nonprofit and for-profit organizations – not to mention the invaluable support and advice from a number of avid gardeners and aspiring urban farmers.

Follow this link to read a comprehensive policy brief prepared by Land Use & Planning about the potential for Cleveland to use a high percentage of its vacant land to create community and market gardens.

The Ohio City Farm, Summer 2010


Zoning Policy

Some of the crowning achievements of the Coalition thus far have been zoning ordinances facilatated by the efforts of the Land Use & Planning Working Group. Land use zoning is a critical function of City and County governments. By the end of the 20th century the country-wide trend toward developing former farmland into new housing, commerce, and industry left few opportunities for would-be farmers to produce food within city limits. The Coalition has worked closely with the Cleveland Planning Commission and City Council to create new opportunities in urban farming through new and modified zoning classifications. This City Record includes all pieces of legislation below as they were introduced. Check out our policy page for an outline of policy changes related to land use and zoning.

Urban Garden Districts

A new zoning category was created by the City of Cleveland in 2007 as result of the Urban Garden District legislation. This ordinance makes it a public process if there is ever interest in developing a community garden’s lot for another use, so participants would have an opportunity to oppose such a move and would thus have an added opportunity to keep their garden in operation. The legislation was the first of its kind in the U.S. The process of passing this ordinance and the implications of it are nicely detailed in this article.

Councilman Cimperman interview about Urban Garden Zoning for documentary “PolyCultures”

Small Livestock aka “Chicken and Bees”

In February 2009, the Cleveland City Council and the City of Cleveland passed an ordinance that revised the zoning and health code to allow the keeping of small livestock, including bees, in all neighborhoods of Cleveland. The ordinance allows for up to six chickens to be kept on a typical residential lot, as long as they’re situated at least 10 feet from a neighbor’s house and are kept in coop that deters predators. The ordinance allows the standard residence to keep one beehive. Those on a one-acre or larger lot in the city can keep a small number of larger animals, including pigs, sheep, goats, and geese. The “Chickens and Bees” ordinance was reauthorized by Cleveland City Council in March 2010. In its first year 15 applications for the zoning classification were approved. The legislation was accomplished in two parts: Restrictions on Keeping of Farm Animals and Bees (see 347.02) and Restrictions on Keeping of Farm Animals and Bees (see 205.04).

Urban Chickenkeeping

Press framing land use and planning issues as they relate to urban agriculture in Cleveland

  • Scene Magazine article by Anastasia Pantsios – “Downtown on the Farm: Cleveland’s new way of life is its old way of life”
  • Plain Dealer article by Brent Larkin – “Planting new jobs for the city’s future”
  • Plain Dealer article by Mark Gillispie – “Cleveland City Councilman Joe Cimperman proposes legislation to allow farm stands in residential neighborhoods”
  • West Side Sun News by Ted Prendergrast – “Urban farming conceptcatching on”
  • EcoWatch blog by Morgan Taggart – “Cleveland Abuzz Over Chicken and Bee Legislation”
  • Cleveland Scene article by Dan Harkins – “City Chicken: Get ready for the rural revolution”
  • Plain Dealer article by Henry Gomez – “Cleveland allows residents to keep farm animals”

Recommendations & Resolutions

In addition to aiding in the creation of ordinances, the Land Use & Planning Working Group has also been instrumental in the passage of resolutions that make bold recommendations for agricultural use of urban lands for ecological and community benefit.

In partnership with Neighborhood Progress Inc. and the Kent State Urban Design Center, the working group developed a series of policy recommendations to encourage local food production that were adopted by Cleveland City Council and the Cleveland Planning Commission in December 2008. The recommendations included:

  • Community gardens in walking distance (1/4 mile) of every resident
  • An affordable water policy for urban gardens and farms
  • Revision of the land bank process for greening projects
  • Long term leases and land tenure for urban agriculture

The organizations went on to include related recommendations in the Reimagining a More Sustainable Cleveland Resource Book.

In mid-2010 the City of East Cleveland passed Resolution No. 54-10, which in its own words: “[Recognizes] the important of healthy, sustainably produced and locally grown foods, community gardens, and other forms of urban agriculture and promoting the production, distribution, and consumption of such foods by and for the residents of the city of East Cleveland and its regional neighbors.” Members of Land Use were involved in the creation of this resolution as well. The document goes on to detail several partnerships that are to be fostered with some specific goals in mind so that East Cleveland may be able to integrate and build on existing efforts.

Public Services Policy

With goals such as those discussed above established, the Land Use & Planning Working Group has been able to aid in the creation of some other public policy that’s resulted in lowered barriers to urban agriculture projects.

The working group helped develop a water policy for urban growing and community greening projects in partnership with the Cleveland Division of Water to provide access to irrigation water for projects throughout Cleveland and Cuyahoga County.

The Coalition was involved in the creation of a City of Cleveland program known as Gardening for Greenbacks, formally established in June 2008 by the Department of Economic Development. Grants of up to $3000 are available for equipment related to growing and selling produce. Members of farmer cooperatives and other community supported agriculture programs that sell food and share proceeds are eligible to participate. Program objectives include ensuring that residents have access to fresh, healthy and affordable food. You can read more about it on the Gardening for Greenbacks page on the City’s website. Also, you can download the brochure for more information. Land Use & Planning was involved both in the shaping this program and in the passage of legislation that paved the way for its creation (by amending the Neighborhood Retail Assistance Program to allow for gardening items to be funded, since market gardeners are also considered retailers).

Analysis of How to Scale-Up Urban Agriculture

A major focus of the Land Use & Planning Working Group has been how to bring urban agriculture efforts in Greater Cleveland to a larger scale. Many of these efforts thus far have demonstrated great success in terms of converting vacant and often blighted parcels of land into zones for community members to interact and produce goods that are good for their health and may even lead to profit.

A group of students at Case Western Reserve’s Weatherhead School of Management collaborated with members of Land Use & Planning to produce a technically-detailed report on how to foster financially-viable urban agriculture businesses in the region. The key recommendations include: compiling a database of suitable land, improving water access through policies and infrastructure, improving education and training, and providing start-up funds as well as marketing and management training. A notable aspect of this study is the inclusion of calculations and charts that show how much an urban market gardener may expect to make over the first decade of a new farm, depending on different strategies and design decisions.

Experts predict “season extension” devices will be key to urban agriculture viability

Land Use & Planning also completed an initial vacant land inventory for Cuyahoga County to identify parcels that are optimal for urban agriculture. Using a combination of criteria developed by planners, crop scientists, researchers, GIS practitioners, and OSU Extension, this inventory will help achieve three goals:

  1. Identify strategic parcels land for urban agriculture in Cleveland
  2. Support farmland preservation efforts in the suburban communities in Cuyahoga County
  3. Inform land use decisions for the Cleveland and Cuyahoga County Land Banks when new parcels are acquired