‘It’s something we’ve always wanted to do,’ bubbled Paula Sargetakis at the January, 2010 Sugar House Community Council (SHCC) Meeting as she outlined plans she and husband/business partner Joe have to create an urban, organic farm in an east side residential area of Sugar House. What they propose is no ordinary backyard garden, but a commercial operation on a land parcel equivalent in size to eight ordinary residential lots.
The property is located at 1794 South Texas Street, on the market for over a year following the demolition of an LDS Ward House, membership of which was combined with that of another church location. The Sargetakis’ put an option on the property in November, 2009 pending the outcome of various Salt Lake City processes to change the current zoning from institutional to residential.
Neighbors and others who attended the January SHCC Meeting were mostly in favor of the rezoning, feeling it a better alternative than the assisted living center or medical/dental clinic that could be constructed there if the zoning remains institutional. They also worry about the potential increase in traffic if the property were to be rezoned residential, but subdivided into eight individual lots. Concurring, SHCC sent a favorable report to the Planning Commission on the proposed project.
On February 10, the Planning Commission voted unanimously to support the rezoning request, conditioned upon the Sargetakis’ limiting the size of the house to 7,000 square feet, two to two and one half times larger than the average house in the surrounding area.
Clearing two out of three hurdles, all that remains is City Council approval, which seems inevitable based on the City’s vow to support Salt Lake County’s Urban Farming Program and its own pending ‘Sustainability Development Code Changes, a request by Mayor Becker to amend the Use Tables of the Zoning Ordinance to allow more opportunity for community gardens, seasonal farm stands, community support agriculture, solar arrays, and wind generating systems in appropriate zoning districts throughout the City.’
There are concerns. Many have been addressed by the Sargetakis’ (See Planning Commission Staff Report). Others include the overall size of the land in proportion to the rest of the properties in the neighborhood and the potential future subdivision of it should the Sargetakis’ plans fail.
Some question how this farm will benefit the community. One could argue that utilization of organic farm methods will indeed help the community in the long run because of the associated sustainability processes. Moreover, the Sargetakis’ have expressed a willingness to provide educational opportunities on organic farming to interns from Red Butte Gardens and/or the University of Utah as well as students at the nearby elementary and middle schools.
However, other benefits seem less clear. Under the home occupation license that enables them to conduct a commercial farm operation, the Sargetakis’ cannot sell fruit or produce on site. They have already indicated their intent to sell most of their harvest to restaurants and off site fruit/produce stands. Thus the products grown are more likely to benefit restaurant diners and consumers outside the neighborhood, possibly the community, in which they are produced.
The outcome of this pioneering effort remains unknown. A positive outcome could very well establish a model from which other urban, organic farms operate in the future. Conversely, it could end up being a disastrous experiment, offering few benefits to any of those involved.