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Galesburg city council votes down front-yard garden prohibition

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The Galesburg city council voted down a proposed prohibition on growing food in front-yard gardens.

The ordinance would have allowed food-producing residential gardens in side and back yards but prohibited them in front-yard setbacks, to keep “positive aesthetics” and “being a good neighbor in mind.”

Around a dozen Galesburg residents spoke out Monday against a proposed ordinance that would prohibit the growing of food in front yards.

Even more residents contacted their council members prior to the meeting.

They asked council members to vote no on the proposal – and the council listened.

Council members voted 6-0 to veto the ordinance on final reading, with Ward 2 council member Wayne Dennis absent.

The vote came after Ward 7 council member Larry Cox moved to table the ordinance, and his fellow council members voted that down.

“We just need to get done with this,” said Ward 5 council member Jaclyn Smith-Esters.

The ordinance would have allowed food-producing residential gardens in side and back yards but prohibited them in front-yard setbacks, to keep “positive aesthetics” and “being a good neighbor in mind.”

Those who spoke out against the ordinance covered a number of issues, including food deserts and food insecurity in the community.

Some residents and council members stated the ordinance sounded more like a vendetta singling people out than an enforceable rule.

Galesburg resident Carol Buebe said the ordinance was a “blatant display of privilege.”

“Telling people they can’t grow food in their yard is just really elitist,” Buebe said.

Others noted many residents aren't able to grow food anywhere but their front yards.

That’s the case for Galesburg resident Rene Pelotte, who said her back yard is small and entirely shaded by a large tree.

So in her front yard, she grows perennial herbs and plants the occasional tomato plant amid flowers.

She also has green beans that grow over a trellis and a raspberry bush in her front yard.

“I don’t see the harm in that,” Pelotte said.

Ward 6 council member Sarah Davis said the ordinance was not proposed and put on the agenda by the council.

The city’s planning and zoning commission voted 4-0 in October to recommend the ordinance, and it was also recommended for approval by the city manager and director of community development.

The ordinance originated in part due to Illinois’ Garden Act, which went into effect on Jan. 1.

Its goal is to encourage and protect the sustainable cultivation of fresh produce at all levels of production, including residential property.

The law does allow for some local regulations related to height and setback, but many who spoke out against the ordinance said it defied the spirit of the law.

City Manager Todd Thompson said the city drafted the ordinance after receiving some complaints about food-producing front-yard gardens.

“That’s the motivation for this,” Thompson said.

The city is also considering an ordinance that would better regulate terrace plantings.

That issue was tabled at the last council meeting and a moratorium is currently in place for enforcement of previous terrace planting regulations.

Jane Carlson covers west central Illinois and southeast Iowa for Tri States Public Radio.