A cit­i­zen’s right to grow veg­gies in the front yard is on Leg­is­la­ture’s agenda

Miami Herald (Sunday) - - Local & State - BY SA­MAN­THA J. GROSS [email protected]­ami­her­ald.com Her­ald/Times Tal­la­has­see Bu­reau

TAL­LA­HAS­SEE

A bill pre­vent­ing lo­cal gov­ern­ments from ban­ning veg­etable gar­dens has cropped up in the Leg­is­la­ture again this year, but this time law­mak­ers say it’s bet­ter set up for suc­cess.

The Se­nate Com­mu­nity Af­fairs Com­mit­tee unan­i­mously backed the mea­sure (SB 82), which pro­hibits a county or mu­nic­i­pal­ity from reg­u­lat­ing veg­etable gar­dens on res­i­den­tial prop­er­ties and voids any ex­ist­ing or­di­nance of that na­ture.

Sen. Rob Bradley, a Flem­ing Is­land Repub­li­can, filed the bill for the leg­isla­tive ses­sion that starts March 5. The Se­nate passed a sim­i­lar bill of his dur­ing the 2018 ses­sion, but the clock ran out and a House ver­sion was never filed.

This time, Rep. Elizabeth Fet­ter­hoff, R-De­Land, has filed the House ver­sion of Bradley’s bill (HB 145), which is iden­ti­cal in lan­guage.

She said Wed­nes­day that the gov­ern­ment has “no busi­ness” in­ter­fer­ing with peo­ple who may be grow­ing veg­eta­bles to save money or prac­tice a hobby.

“Just yes­ter­day, I toured a gar­den in my district that is be­ing set up to help ed­u­cate and em­power its com­mu­nity through self-sus­tain­abil­ity practices like gar­den­ing,” Fet­ter­hoff said. “Yet in some ar­eas of our state, lo­cal gov­ern­ments place ar­bi­trary re­stric­tions on their cit­i­zens’ right to pro­vide for them­selves us­ing their own pri­vate prop­erty.”

The veg­etable gar­den pro­posal is rooted in a le­gal dis­pute about an or­di­nance in Mi­ami Shores that banned the gar­dens from be­ing planted in front yards. Her­mine Rick­etts and Tom Car­roll sued the vil­lage, and in Novem­ber 2017, an ap­peals court up­held a rul­ing that the cou­ple does not have a con­sti­tu­tional right to grow veg­eta­bles in their front yard. They ap­pealed the rul­ing to the Florida Supreme Court, which de­clined to grant re­view.

The cou­ple was be­ing charged $50 in daily fines and even­tu­ally had to dig up their 17 years of work. The or­di­nance re­stricts edi­ble plants to back­yards only, but their north-fac­ing back­yard didn’t get enough sun for their toma­toes, beets, kale and mul­ti­ple va­ri­eties of Asian cab­bage.

Bradley, who also filed the bill dur­ing the 2018 leg­isla­tive ses­sion, said he is not anti-home rule but in­stead be­lieves hav­ing a gar­den is a “fun­da­men­tal right.”

“When one thinks of a code en­force­ment of­fi­cer go­ing onto prop­erty that you own and re­quir­ing you un­der threat of fine to tear up a gar­den that you have pre­pared to grow your own food, that to me is not con­sis­tent [...] our con­sti­tu­tion,” he said at the bill’s hear­ing on Mon­day.

The tiff in Mi­ami Shores was not the first time lo­cal gov­ern­ments have caught crit­i­cism for reg­u­lat­ing aes­thet­ics. Coral Gables in­cluded a ban on pickup trucks in drive­ways un­til the ban was put on the 2012 Novem­ber bal­lot and over­turned by vot­ers.

Those op­posed to the cur­rent bill, like the Florida League of Cities, have con­cerns over peo­ple grow­ing veg­eta­bles com­mer­cially or corn­stalks that are too tall.

Ari Bargil, the Mi­ami at­tor­ney who rep­re­sented Rick­etts and Car­roll, said those are things that are al­ready cov­ered by ex­ist­ing own­ing codes in most mu­nic­i­pal­i­ties across the state.

He added that the bill’s very spe­cific lan­guage will mit­i­gate any other lo­cal pre­emp­tion is­sues.

“It’s clearly lim­ited only to treat­ment of veg­etable gar­dens dif­fer­ently than any other as­pect of a front yard gar­den,” he said. “What they can’t do, is treat veg­eta­bles dif­fer­ently from, say, a rose bush. This is a crit­i­cal thing for peo­ple who want to en­joy their prop­erty and take con­trol over what they put into their bod­ies.”

Bargil said re­stric­tions on gar­dens in the first place are “ar­bi­trary and frankly silly” since there’s no uni­fy­ing aes­thetic qual­ity of a veg­etable gar­den. It’s dif­fer­ent, for in­stance, from tall struc­tures that may in­hibit first re­spon­ders, or manda­tory set­back re­quire­ments to keep the side­walks clear.

The League of Cities’ leg­isla­tive coun­sel, David Cruz, said that while com­pro­mises like set­back re­quire­ments or height re­stric­tions are good, law­mak­ers should still re­spect lo­cal gov­ern­ment’s author­ity to make de­ci­sions on or­di­nances for their com­mu­ni­ties.

“Lo­cal com­mu­ni­ties use those reg­u­la­tions to shape the na­ture and the charac- ters of their com­mu­ni­ties,” he said. “That’s why you have Coral Gables look­ing very dif­fer­ent from Perry, Florida.”

Cruz said bills like this one pre­empt lo­cal laws, and gave the ex­am­ple of a 2013 Or­lando or­di­nance that al­lows res­i­dents to use 60 per­cent of their front yard as a veg­etable gar­den.

“This bill would void that or­di­nance,” he said. “It would undo the good work of a city to com­pro­mise on this is­sue.”

WAL­TER MICHOT Mi­ami Her­ald file photo

Tom Car­roll and Her­mine Rick­etts stand in front of their home in Mi­ami Shores in Novem­ber 2013, when the cou­ple main­tained a front-yard veg­etable gar­den.

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