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City’s Blunders Threaten Beloved KC Farm

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Urbavore Urban Farm is one of the largest and longest-standing urban farms in the Kansas City region. Along with our sister business, Compost Collective KC, Urbavore has a substantial impact on Kansas City. We feed thousands of people each year, we compost well over one million pounds of food waste annually, and we create climate resilience for our region!

Our farm received four violations from the City of KCMO this spring based on ongoing complaints by a few neighbors. These violations contradict prior zoning approvals from the City, and will be costly for Urbavore to correct. The violations also threaten the broader urban farming community by setting a negative precedent for community composting and urban farm stands at-large.

We created this page so that anyone can see the facts for themselves, ranging from the violation notices to the City’s 2021 compliance determination for our composting expansion to the text of the actual zoning code. You don’t have to dig very deep to find that the City’s violations are baseless.

We also give you some resources to support our fight as we continue onward! Winning this fight will require community support both in numbers, as well as in dollars. Thank you for doing whatever you can to help! Local food security & climate resilience in Kansas City depends on it!

Most Recent Updates:

We need as many of you as possible to show up to a Board of Zoning Adjustment Hearing this Wednesday 7/10 at City Hall, 10th Floor.

The proceedings begin at 9:00 AM but we are 12th on the docket, so we have no idea when the case will actually be heard. We will do our best to post via Facebook / Instagram with timing updates.

THIS PARTICULAR HEARING on Wednesday is the follow-up Board of Zoning Adjustment (BZA) hearing to the original event that took place on January 9th when we appealed the four violations leveled against us in May of 2023. These violations included the Community Compost Site that we had formally been approved for in 2021 by the City Planning & Development Dept. and by the State. In that hearing, we expected that the indisputable evidence we presented would more than easily prove our innocence and that the violations would be dropped. We were sorely disappointed.

The conclusion was that the Board granted us a 6-month Continuance and asked two things of us:

  • To pursue & submit a Master Plan Development Re-Zoning Application (which we did with a 65K price tag)
  • To put into place some traffic reduction efforts (which we’ve done) through alternative pick-up times/locations and member carpooling.

This hearing should be a formality in which the Board simply says, “okay, you clearly did what we asked & we’ll see you again in 6 months after the Master Plan has had time to go through the processes of approval/denial”. But because all other processes with the City have not followed legal procedure, we are expecting a curveball, and need to be prepared with HUNDREDS OF SUPPORTERS physically present as well as heart-felt testimonies from key people.

3/20/24 Update:

Urbavore is raising funds for the Master Plan Development rezoning required to continue operations.

Dearest Supporters:

We are pained to share that our January Hearing before the Board of Zoning Adjustment (Part 1 2:30:00 – 4:53:22; Part 2 0:00-45:00) did nothing to improve our situation, and forces us to pursue the expensive Master Plan Development rezoning. The application for that rezoning requires costly professional services that could cost us as much as $65,000 – that’s just to submit the application. We are RAISING FUNDS to pay for this mess that has been foisted upon us by the City, and we humbly request donations from anyone who has the means. We are prideful people and REALLY don’t like asking for money, but we appreciate your support, and hope you see our work as “worth it”!

Use the video links above to view each captivating hour of our circus-like hearing before the Board of Zoning Adjustment. You’ll see that we made a very compelling case, based on facts that prove our compliance. But as one of our customers said, “Facts are useless unless they’re considered.” And in the case of this board, they failed to acknowledge the clear-cut case that they were presented with. Instead, they heard the forceful complaints of a few neighbors above the abundant support from the majority of our community. Just a glance at our supporter map below – underpinned with letters of support – should have created a truer picture for this board. They had the power to remove these violations based on all of the legal evidence with which they were presented. They chose instead to continue us down the expensive path of rezoning (passing the decision-making responsibility to a different board).

Thus, we begin YEAR TWO of this crisis that threatens not just our livelihood, but also critical climate-positive work in Kansas City. Read on to gather facts, with underlying documentation, about this continuing drama. Thank you for your support, and please donate if you are able.

Violations

Urbavore has received four violations from the City of Kansas City. You can read the violation notices yourself, if you like. If you’re not familiar with the City’s robot-speak, you may find yourself scratching your head! Here’s a summary, along with an explanation of why Urbavore should be in compliance on ALL of these violations. Staff from the City Planning Department would not listen to our arguments negating these violations, nor would they provide clarification of their own code interpretations.

Note: all supporting links will open in a new window. Click the tabs to view each violation.

Violation 1: Compost Facility

Violation 1: Compost Facility

The City determined in this violation that Urbavore’s composting operations constitute a Composting Facility as defined in the Zoning Code.

Response: In March 2021, in preparation for expanding our composting operations and purchasing Compost Collective KC, Urbavore asked the City Planning Department for assistance in determining how our proposed compost expansion could comply with the Zoning Code. After some initial emails and a meeting, City Planning issued this compliance determination, as well as this email providing some context for the determination. As you can see, the City determined that the compost expansion would NOT be considered a Composting Facility because the compost is part of the agricultural production and is not being sold. That was the basis on which Urbavore invested approximately $85,000 in building its current compost infrastructure. It was also the basis for purchasing Compost Collective KC for $275,000. Thereafter, Compost Collective KC has continued to make substantial investments in its compost operations. Compost operations at Urbavore are an accessory use, as stated in the Planning Department's own compliance letter of March 2021.

In April of 2023, Inspector James Duddy (looking onto our property from a neighbor’s property and seeing our composting operations from a distance of about 300 ft.) determined our compost operations to be a Composting Facility. In issuing the violation, Mr. Duddy was not aware of the prior approval we had received from his own department. When Urbavore farmer Dan Heryer spoke with Mr. Duddy by phone shortly after receiving the violation, Mr. Duddy stated that the prior compliance determination did not apply. He stated that the compost operations had “become a primary use” rather than an accessory use when the compost had exceeded the volume of 40 cubic yards. Rather than argue with Mr. Duddy over the phone, Farmer Dan decided to check his records to make sure that he had specified the scope and volume of compost that Urbavore would be handling in his initial communications with the City. As it turns out, Farmer Dan had explicitly stated many times that the compost volume could reach 1,500 cubic yards by 2023. Check out the initial emails, as well as this meeting invitation where the compost volume is listed in the notes. Farmer Dan had also sent City Planning a hand-drawn-to-scale site map of the proposed expansion. When Inspector Duddy learned this information, he changed tack and claimed that we had not only exceeded the 1,500 cubic yard volume, but had also become a primary use because, he claimed, the composting was the main use of the land. Despite that, our composting operations closely fit the definition of an accessory use in that it is "subordinate in area, extent, and purpose to the principal use on the zoning lot and is customarily found in conjunction with a permitted principal use." (Section 88-810-030) The principal use of the lot is agriculture, and the agricultural activities extend to all 13 acres of the lot area. The composting activity is contained within a quarter-acre of the lot. City Planning refused to discuss the details of their interpretation in our June 9, 2023 meeting, and stated that the violations could only be removed by appealing to the Board of Zoning Adjustment.

While Urbavore clearly did their due diligence in complying with KCMO’s zoning code, it’s also worth noting that the zoning code is a complete human fabrication, made up over the past 100 or so years. Composting is a natural process that has been happening forever!

Violation 2: Retail Sales

Violation 2: Retail Sales

Urbavore produces a wide range of products (including various vegetables and fruits, eggs and pork), and sells them on an online store and through a Community Supported Agriculture program. Customers pick up their purchases on Urbavore Urban Farm on Thursday evenings from 4-7PM. In addition to our own products, Urbavore sells a few products from other local producers (cheese from Skyview Creamery, beef from Crooked Bar N Ranch, fermented vegetables from Fair Share Farm, and mushrooms from Myco Planet). In this violation, the City interprets Urbavore’s distribution of local products that are not produced on Urbavore Farm as retail sales, in violation of R-80 zoning.

Response: Urbavore farm does not sell on-site to the general public. Orders for products from Urbavore’s online store are accepted online in advance, prior to the day of distribution, and are then distributed on the farm. Therefore, Urbavore’s sales of other local products cannot be considered retail sales. Also noteworthy, Urbavore is allowed to sell any products that are produced on the farm, as defined in 88-312-01-A 1.(c). Furthermore, this violation directly impacts local food systems at large, since many celebrated urban farms in KC’s urban core distribute healthy products from other local producers. If this violation holds for URBAVORE, it will negatively impact local food security, and healthy food options metro-wide.

Violation 3: Vehicle Use Areas

Violation 3: Vehicle Use Areas

The crux of this violation is that the City requires driveways and roads entering a property to be paved for the first 25 feet from the edge of the property line. Both of the entrances at Urbavore are graveled, not paved.

Urbavore’s Response: Entries at both Bennington Avenue and 55th Terrace are grandfathered. Both entries existed in the 1960s (or prior). Such entries are commonly addressed when submitting an application for a building permit. Urbavore has had three building permits approved (house, barn & solar array), and when we applied for those permits, the permit division indicated that these were grandfathered and did not require paved drive entries. While we do not have documentation of that interpretation, the building codes department does not approve such permits without legal drive entries to the site. Also noteworthy: The City has had control of the right of way that connects Urbavore Farm to 55th Terrace since the 1960s, and had a responsibility to pave that access when the neighboring subdivision was first developed. The house at 6400 E 55th Terrace was designed with its driveway and garage accessing this right-of-way, but has never had paved access to 55th Terrace. That right-of-way has been gravel for over 60 years. It’s arbitrary for the City to require Urbavore to pave 25 feet within the property boundary when the City has not paved the 125 ft. right-of-way that accesses the property.

Violation 4: Shipping Container

Violation 4: Shipping Container

Pretty straightforward: the City is stating that you cannot store a shipping container on a residentially zoned property.

Response: If you look closely at the text of this violation, you will note that the cited problem is the “storage of temporary storage containers”, which is only allowed in manufacturing districts. There’s a distinction between storing a shipping container versus using a shipping container for storage. Think of businesses surrounding rail lines in manufacturing districts that might stack and store dozens of empty shipping containers. That’s not what Urbavore is doing at all. We reuse old shipping containers to store materials and things related to our business. That type of use would put our shipping containers in a different category: accessory structures. Any shipping containers that we are using for storage should be considered accessory structures because they are necessary to the operation of our farm, and they are not temporary, they are a permanent feauture. In our zoning district (R-80), we are allowed to have accessory structures of up to 8,000 square feet.

Community Engagement

Aerial map showing urbavore support status with marked properties within a city grid.

Additional Note: Some people have gotten the impression that we should have done more community engagement to avoid these problems. We started engaging this community with door knocking and community meetings way back in 2009, a year before we purchased our farm site in 2010. We have been engaging with the community ever since, and we know practically everyone in our neighborhood. We have a proven track record here, and we are simply being harassed by a couple of neighbors who want to say “Not In My Back Yard” to something that is not causing harm (and also doing a great deal of good).

We welcome the input and opinions of all, but some of our neighbors have resorted to assault. We’ve all seen how polarized various issues have become in our country. Some people think that violence and harassment are a form of activism. That is happening at the microcosm-level here at Urbavore Farm. As we continue the rezoning process, we will be holding a number of meetings with neighbors to gather input. We will be creating space for everyone in those conversations – ensuring that all voices are given a platform, not just the loudest.

Additional Documentation & Counterpoints to the City’s Board of Zoning Adjustment Case

Adding to the extensive documentation that we’ve already provided, here are two inspection reports (1 & 2)for some of the nuisance complaints that we have had on the farm since January 2023. We’ve been found in compliance each time! The “nuisance” claims by a couple neighbors of odor, “illegal” animals and much more have been proven false time and again.

During the Board of Zoning Adjustment Hearing on January 9th, the City of Kansas City did not act as a passive arbiter of facts, but as a prosecutor focused on winning the case in their favor. Thus, they were focused on presenting interpretations of our prior approval that showed us to be out of compliance. They did not seek out experts in the compost field (or even a measuring tape) to prove their case, but relied on Instagram posts and hearsay to demonstrate that our composting volumes, and the sale of compost. Here are a few important points to consider with regard to the City’s case on our composting compliance:

The City’s Facts:

  1. When the City issued the original violation, the Planning Department inspector didn’t know that we had prior approval. See “Violation 1” for the details.
  2. The City presented inaccurate mathematics to represent the volume of compost that Urbavore is producing:
    • The City conflated cubic feet with cubic yards in their presentation to say that each of our compost bays hold over 1,800 cubic yards of compost.
    • The City claimed that our weekly intake of 20,000 pounds of food waste (cited from Urbavore’s own Instagram posts that provide that estimate) converted into volumes that violate City codes.

3. The City cited a customer’s Instagram comment where the customer claimed to have “bought” compost proved that we are selling compost.

4. The City claimed that Urbavore is selling beer and restaurant food.

Our Facts:

  1. Although we do not store over 1,500 cubic yards of material on our composting site, the City’s approval of our accessory use never capped the volume.
  2. See the diagram below that shows the real volume of the compost bays. Our four largest bays hold 167 cubic yards each. The five smaller bays hold 96 cubic yards each. It’s easy math: (Length in Feet X Width in Feet X Height in Feet) / 27.  Total capacity is under 1,200 cubic yards!!
  3. Mr. Stan Slaughter, MA Biology and a leading composting in our region with over 30 years of experience, was unable to testify on the day of the hearing, but followed up with this assessment of Urbavore’s volumetric compliance with the 1,500 cubic yard target. Note that Mr. Slaughter mistook the timescale of our estimate: we are taking in 20,000 pounds of food waste per week (not per day). All the same, his volume estimates put Urbavore well below 1,500 cubic yards.

Additionally, on our Retail Sales violation, the City claimed that Urbavore is selling beer and restaurant food. Apart from the farm’s own products, Urbavore only sells whole foods made by local producers, including bread, cheese, mushrooms, beef, lamb, ferments, and flour. We have never sold beer or restaurant food. Get your facts straight, City!

An isometric projection of excavation site plans with annotated volumes of removed earth.

How You Can Help

In light of the information above, we have two primary requests of Kansas City and Mayor Quinton Lucas: (1) Intervene and remove the erroneous violation related to the compost site and (2) Support Urbavore's Master Plan Development. Your letters made an impact; please watch for updates on what we will need next.

01.

Watch Updates

Watch this website, social media, and subscribe to our email list to learn how you can help as the situation progresses.

02.

Public Comment

Leave a comment below voicing your support for Urbavore Farm and what it means for Kansas City.

03.

Donate

This GoFundMe will help us cover legal/administrative fees and the cost of surveys for our Master Plan Development.

Bonus Actions!

If you'd like to take your support to the next level, click a box below for additional ways you can help.

Notify Media

Do you have contacts at local news outlets or podcasts who can help? Use this form.

Subscribe

Subscribe to emails to stay in the loop (and see veggies of the week).

Compost

Keep food waste out of the landfill by joining Compost Collective KC.

Original (Online) Letter Campaign Complete:

1,128 submissions
1,000 goal

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Support the Future

Local Food + Waste Reduction

Urbavore Farm advances two key goals in Kansas City's Climate Protection and Resiliency Plan: (1) growing and sharing local and nutritious food and (2) waste reduction and reuse.

  • Providing access to fresh, healthy, nutritious food;
  • Reducing greenhouse gases by sequestering carbon in the soil and by diverting organic matter from the waste stream and converting it to compost to improve soil health;
  • Stewarding a biodiverse ecosystem which provides beneficial natural habitats; and
  • Creating green jobs through small, local businesses.

The threat to Urbavore is a threat to all of Kansas City's urban farms and gardens, our local food system, and our city's climate resilient future. Let's stand together in support of urban agriculture's future in Kansas City. 

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