“With a word-word here and a tweak-tweak there, the Georgia legislature’s House Committee on Agriculture and Consumer Affairs has managed to put together an “urban farming” bill that is worthy of the full Georgia General Assembly’s support.
In its original version, House Bill 842 – which is designed to pre-empt local ordinances restricting production of agricultural or farm products on residential or other urban property – virtually eliminated the ability of local governments to take any action against people raising chickens, rabbits, goats or food crops.
As Athens-Clarke County Commissioner Kelly Girtz noted in a Friday story in this newspaper on the original House Bill 842, any legislation on the subject of urban farming should give local governments some leeway, such as the ability to ban noisy roosters, limit the number of animals being kept on a given property, and keep crops a certain distance away from adjacent property lines.
In its latest version, the bill does give local governments some oversight in connection with urban farming operations, noting that the law, if passed, “shall not prohibit or impair” the “authority of a local governmental entity to abate a public nuisance.”
It’s also important to note that the law, if passed, would not supersede any private covenants, such as are routinely applied to properties within residential subdivisions, that regulate agricultural activities.
In its substance, the bill would deny local governments the ability to “prohibit or require any permit for the growing or raising of food crops or chickens, rabbits or milk goats” on private residential property, or in a community garden setting of 2.75 acres or less, as long as “such food crops or animals or the products thereof” are used for consumption by occupants of the residential property or the “growers and raisers and members of their households” using a community garden plot or animal pen.
There is a legitimate argument that House Bill 842, even in its latest version, would usurp local control of potentially problematic land uses. However, an overarching state law also would serve to limit the sort of lengthy local debate over urban farming issues that, over time, can amount to a de facto prohibition of such practices. Such prohibition, even in the face of clear interest within a significant segment of the public for engaging in some small-scale farming in areas carrying urban and suburban zoning designations, could be construed as an attempt on the part of local governments to keep people from the full and free enjoyment of their property…”
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