NEW PORT RICHEY — "Let our city grow."
That was the ultimate applause line Tuesday night from New Port Richey Environmental Committee chairman Dell deChant, which had a couple of dozen supporters clapping as the City Council pondered whether to give final approval to an urban agriculture ordinance allowing sales of produce from residential gardens across the city.
In response, the council unanimously approved the ordinance, ending weeks of debate during which some council members raised concerns — some of which they continued to voice even as they voted in favor of the ordinance. The council also passed a companion ordinance, amending the city's comprehensive plan, which prior to the vote had received state approval.
For years, the city's volunteer committee, led by deChant, has been pushing for the ordinance, which the group argues will put New Port Richey on the cutting edge of a national movement toward community gardening, bringing people together and promoting healthy living.
With passage of the ordinance, the city will permit the commercial sale of produce from local gardens in residential, commercial and industrial zones. Sales in residential areas would be restricted to once every six months from a particular location, and a permit, which would expire after 72 hours, would be required. The city staff has likened the twice-a-year permits to what is done for garage sales.
There are restrictions in the ordinance that do not allow indoor growing operations anywhere other than in light industrial areas of the city. Urban agriculture also would be banned in mobile home parks, as would livestock anywhere in the city.
Several people spoke in favor of the ordinance, saying it will continue the effort by the council to make New Port Richey a walkable, trendy, tight-knit community that will draw in new residents, including sought-after young professionals.
"I think it's a cool thing," said Frank Starkey, a local developer whose company plans to build upscale apartments in the city's downtown.
While the council supported the ordinance, several members called on the Environmental Committee, which will oversee the issuance of permits, to be vigilant in making sure gardens are maintained and look good.
"It's very difficult to legislate taste," City Council member Judy DeBella Thomas said.
DeBella Thomas also expressed concern over how the city will monitor produce sales from residential neighborhoods, saying she would prefer regular market-style events in designated areas as opposed to yard sales, which she said could become "unwieldy."
Deputy Mayor Bill Phillips said the ordinance is a positive move for the city, but may need tweaking down the road should issues or complaints arise. He called on the Environmental Committee to stay on top of any possible problem sites.
"If there are problems," Phillips said, "I want them addressed quickly."