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A Galesburg resident's terrace plantings are shown in this photo.

'Our hands in too many pots:’ Galesburg city council members push back on gardening ordinances

One ordinance would prohibit residents from growing food in their front yards and the other is meant to regulate terrace plantings.

Galesburg city officials are proposing two ordinances related to what residents can plant in their yards and where.

One would prohibit residents from growing food in their front yards and the other is meant to regulate terrace plantings.

Both got some pushback from some city council members at this week’s city council meeting.

Front-yard produce gardens

“I’m going to be honest, this might be the most ridiculous ordinance I’ve ever read,” said Ward 6 council member Sarah Davis about the proposed restriction on front-yard produce gardens. “Is there really any reason behind this other than somebody taking a look at a neighbor’s yard and going, ‘I don’t like what I see?’”

Gov. JB Pritzker signed Illinois’ Garden Act in August and it was enacted Jan. 1.

Its purpose is to encourage and protect the sustainable cultivation of fresh produce on residential property for personal consumption or non-commercial sharing.

The Garden Act does allow some local regulation related to height and setback for edible gardens, and city administrators said their proposal is about “keeping positive aesthetics” and “being a good neighbor.”

But Davis said she found it “extremely ironic” the city would attempt to limit where residents can grow food on their own properties in light of the Garden Act.

“God forbid someone drive by or look out their window and see food planted on a lawn,” Davis said.

Ward 5 council member Jaclyn Smith-Esters said she agreed with Davis and tied the issue to the community’s problems with food insecurity.

Ward 4 council member Dwight White also said he thought it went too far.

“Next we’re going to say there’s a house and we don’t like the color of it,” White said.

Regulating terrace plantings

Another proposed ordinance would regulate plantings in the terrace portions of the public right-of-way.

Those strips of land between the street and the sidewalk are public property but are maintained by property owners.

Some Galesburg residents want to utilize that space for ornamental gardens and pollinators that are more environmentally friendly and unique than just turf grass.

City Manager Todd Thompson said the ordinance is actually more lax than the current process for terrace plantings, which requires individual landscaping agreements with the city.

It would allow terrace plantings up to 30 inches high with a two-foot setback in the interests of sightlines and safety at intersections.

“The restrictions are primarily related to trying to ensure that the sidewalks and streets are safe and usable,” Thompson said. “Outside of that, it’s pretty permissive with respect to what it allows in the planting.”

Thompson said city code already regulates the planting of trees and bushes in terraces, but having an ordinance for other terrace plantings would set an approval process to avoid ambiguity on what’s allowed.

Last fall, the city enacted a moratorium on enforcing an alleged violation related to one resident’s terrace plantings while officials worked out an ordinance.

Davis said due to the community interest in the topic, more input is needed.

Smith-Esters said the city is “putting our hands in too many pots” in trying to regulate this.

“There’s other cities across the nation that are allowing this and it looks beautiful,” Smith-Esters said.

Smith-Esters moved to table discussion of the terrace ordinance until March 21.

That passed, with Ward 1 council member Bradley Hix and Ward 7 council member Larry Cox voting no.

Tri States Public Radio produced this story.  TSPR relies on financial support from our readers and listeners in order to provide coverage of the issues that matter to west central Illinois, southeast Iowa, and northeast Missouri. As someone who values the content created by TSPR's news department please consider making a financial contribution.