After almost two years of battling very persistent opponents and Urban Farm Ordinances, Springdale Farms’s owners Glenn and Paula Foore have been denied a Conditional Use Permit application by the City of Austin's Planning Commission. This permit would have allowed the farm to host outdoor entertainment on a conditional basis.
This means events held at the farm will now be limited to only six per year. This could mean a major blow to the farm’s future—as income from private events is a large component of their financial infrastructure.
The property the farm sits on today was purchased by Paula and Glenn Foore in 1992 through the city’s Economic Redevelopment Program, which was designed to entice business owners to the then-depressed East Side. Until early 2009, the farm operated as a landscaping business. Then the country was hit by a recession. What could one possibly do with five acres of land? Paula Foore’s response was to start an urban farm. Her first customer was Jesse Griffith (of Dai Due). Paula describes her first transaction, "He approached me and wanted to do a supper club. Then, when he saw how many tomatoes I had, he asked what I was going to do with them, I told him I had no idea other than try to just can them as fast as possible. He ended up buying some and calling other chefs to come buy some as well."
Today, Springdale Farm is a lush and welcoming site in East Austin. They provide produce and proteins to Austin's best eateries, including Dai Due, Gardner, Odd Duck, Lenoir, and East Side Pies (just to name a few from their impressive client list). The award-winning farm is also home to Eden East, Sonya Cote’s farm-to-table restaurant that embodies the concept; with literally feet between the plant beds and guests. Both the farmhouse and grand live oak that serve as the heart of the farm have stood witness for couples committing to eternity. The farm serves as an idyllic space that hosts fundraisers, and art/music events. They regularly give educational tours to gaggles of schoolchildren.
So…how did a five-acre farm in East Austin become the center of a two-year long, heated controversy surrounding gentrification and zoning?
Here’s the short version: In 2011, when HausBar Farms’s compost created a literal stink, environmental justice group People Organized in Defense of Earth and Her Resources (PODER) stepped in and accused HausBar Farms of "operating commercially in a residential zone and gentrifying the area surrounding the farm." They also accused HausBar of being a slaughterhouse. The city got involved and it was agreed that the then-current urban farm ordinances needed to be revised.
Then this happened:
"Under the new code, urban farms are allowed to host events with more than 50 people six times a year, after receiving a temporary use permit; but that provision doesn't apply to Springdale, which is zoned commercially. The farm needs a conditional use permit (CUP) in order to continue hosting events such as fundraisers, weddings, or other farm-related events. However, only when Springdale Farm prepared to apply for its CUP did the Foores discover a conditional overlay – enacted eight years after they purchased the property – which prohibits outdoor entertainment."
In addition to zoning issues, then came the campaign from East Side activists claiming that Springdale Farm was contributing to gentrification and the destruction of the ethnic community on the Eastside. A member of PODER even called 311 over 400 times to file code complaints.
In November of 2014, the City Council held a heated meeting where outspoken business and property owner Rosa Santis, and PODER’s Susana Almanza spoke out against Springdale Farm:
"Opponents of the changes cited noise from events, lack of parking, and a strong emphasis on the consumption of alcohol at weddings and fundraisers, and at Eden East, the farm-to-table mobile food trailer located on the property. They maintained they did not want to shut down the farm, but are opposed to an event center."
With tensions rising after testimonies, a decision was made— that Springdale Farm would be able to apply for a Conditional Use Permit that would allow them to continue hosting outdoor events on a conditional basis.
This brings us to June 10th, 2015. The Foores walked into what they thought would be a quick approval of the permit because the issue was on the consent agenda. At City Hall, the activist group known as East Cesar Chavez Neighborhood Planning Team were in full effect, voicing their disapproval of an unrelated project (a proposed 65-room hotel) when the Springdale Farm permit was also caught in the group’s crossfire.
The Foores had not put themselves on the list to speak and were blindsided by the commission’s denial, which they feel may have been fueled by the emotion in the room. "I was horrified that one of the commissioners believed the things they were saying. I honestly believe that they assumed this entire group was comprised of our neighbors, and that’s just not the case," Paula recalls.
The weary owners of Springdale Farm tweeted the following on June 10:
The fate of the farm... For those of you that keep up with my family farm, this is a short blurb from my mother.... http://t.co/VeY2B7Qq3k— Springdale Farm (@springdalefarm) June 10, 2015
Which led to the following statement:
Planning Commission Denies Permit Application
In an unexpected turn of events last night, the same Planning Commission that guided us through our zoning amendment denied our Conditional Use Permit application.
This means that we can have 6 total events per year like the farms in Single Family zoned areas can, even though our property is zoned commercial, and even though City Council voted to allow these uses on the farm.
While we do have the option to appeal this decision, which takes the case back to city council, at this moment in time, we are not sure we have the energy or the resources to stay in this game of politics.
Your support throughout this process has literally been the wind beneath our wings. Thank you so much! We love this community more than you can know!
We will certainly keep you posted on what direction this means for the farm. Some sweet sole said to us last night, "when one door closes, another one opens." So true. We just need to take a minute to re-group ourselves.
With love and gratitude,
"It’s disheartening that we have to spend so much time and energy defending food. If we were a huge rural farm, we’d be getting subsidies. Here we have to make sure we are economically viable, hence the private events," says Paula. "We are often criticized [by opponents] for working with high-end restaurants. But those restaurants all have chefs who, in a heartbeat would be here to volunteer for a fundraiser. The support the food scene shows each other is just amazing."
On the future, she explains, "We plan to keep educating people on the importance of healthy food and healthy choices." She adds, "We just want this part to be done so we can focus on the good things."
Eden East’s Sonya Cote had this to say: "Our hearts go out to Springdale Farm; that Glenn and Paula Foore were denied approval for their Conditional Use Permit application, despite the fact that their property is zoned commercial, and City Council voted to allow these uses on the farm. Although this doesn't directly impact Eden East, for the time being, it's frustrating and very disappointing."
Their non-profit organization, Springdale Center for Urban Agriculture mission is to promote sustainable agriculture in urban areas, to educate and to foster community. They have recently partnered with children’s museum, Thinkery, to provide educational and interactive tours for children. In addition, Springdale Farm is almost set up to start accepting SNAP benefits, and are just waiting on the necessary equipment.
The Foores will file for an appeal and expect to defend themselves, once again, in August.
— Anastacia Uriegas