Vacant Lots Could Become Urban Farms Under Bill

Matt Cohen, Jun 16, 2014,

While parts of D.C.—like the H Street corridor, parts of Petworth, the NoMa area, and others—have rapidly developed in the past few years, there are still District-owned lots throughout the city with no current plans for development.

Under a bill introduced by Councilmembers David Grosso (I-At Large) and Mary Cheh (D-Ward 3), vacant lots and plots of land owned by the District could be turned into urban farms. The amendment to the Food Production and Urban Gardens Program Act of 1986 would "establish an urban farming land leasing initiative," as well as a tax credit for food donations and tax abatement for properties leased for the purpose of becoming small-scale urban farms.

"There's parcels of land in D.C. that, maybe aren't in the right neighborhoods or areas for development yet," Grosso tells DCist. "One of the secrets about development is that it happens when it wants to. It's very hard to create development in a place or location where it's not ready." While Grosso's bill aims to turn these properties into small urban farms, poised to produce locally-grown vegetables and fruits, he says that the vacant lots don't need to remain urban farms forever.

"There's a whole field open near 14th Street and Rhode Island Avenue NE," Grosso says. "Someday, development will happen and it will be good and will hopefully require some affordable housing. But in the meantime, we have a lot of land like that that's owned by the District that's just sitting there."

At last week's hearing on the bill, Mark Chambers, sustainability manager for the D.C. Department of General Services, said it doesn't address or take into consideration certain environmental issues like testing, cleanup, and—D.C.'s favorite problem—rats.

Grosso says that Chambers' concerns are "ill-informed" and that measures to control the rodent population, as well as testing and cleanup, will be addressed once the bill moves forward.

There's also the question of what happens when the city decides to develop the land. Removing an urban farm years in the making in a neighborhood community could create a contentious debate like the one at the farm at Walker-Jones. The proposed redevelopment of the McMillan Park Sand Filtration site, which one group wants to see become a farm, is another example.

"We just have to be conscious and not be afraid of the public debate," Grosso says. "At some point, it may be a good use permanently, or it may just be a good use temporarily, but it's doing something other than what's happening there now, which is nothing. Put a farm there for a while and see what happens."