Departamento asociado: Parks and Recreation
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Community garden permit guide

The Community Gardens Program exists to help residents start community gardens. We support garden projects on many kinds of land, but this guide is specifically for starting a community garden on city owned land. A City-permitted community garden must be maintained by at least 4 dedicated volunteers who don't share a household and are not family.

Información de contacto

Community Gardens Coordinator

Overview

Overview 1 of 1

Steps for getting a community garden permit

The community garden permit application process requires these steps for a successful community garden. If your permit is approved, you can use City-owned land and Austin Water will install the garden's water tap for free.

Community garden requirements

  • At least 4 dedicated volunteers who don't share a household and are not family must operate and maintain the garden.
  • The garden must be open to the public at least once a month.
  • Harvested items are not for commercial use.
  • Gardens must use sustainable urban agriculture practices, including composting and avoiding pesticides.

Time frame

On average, the permitting process takes a year and is divided into 3 phases, with a check-in at the end of each phase.

If you are interested in starting a community garden on a faster timeline, consider a partnership with a neighborhood or community center. You will still need to work with the community gardens coordinator to ensure the site is eligible and safeopen_in_new.

Templates

The Community Gardens Programopen_in_new has created templatesopen_in_new for the various documents you will need in your application to help you in the process.

Phase 1: Let's get this garden started

Phase 1: Let's get this garden started 1 of 3

Recruit people for your community garden

Successful community gardens have motivated leaders and a broad base of support. Your community garden permit application requires a list of coordinating committee members, committed gardeners and garden leaders.

  1. Pick 4 to 10 planning leaders.

    Your garden leaders, also called a coordinating committee, plan the community garden. This group explains the need for a new community garden, such as few nearby gardens, long waiting lists at current gardens, or gardens are too far away. Your coordinating committee should have at least four dedicated people.

  2. Create a generic e-mail for your garden (such as gardenname@gmail.com).

    This helps you stay organized and makes things easier for future garden leaders.

  3. Create a Facebook page.

    Share the Facebook page with your contacts. Ask neighborhood groups and community members to “like” your page and update it often.

  4. Advertise in neighborhood newspapers, community council newsletters, or bulletin boards. Put a sign on the lot announcing the future garden, and put up flyers in community centers or public places.

  5. Talk to neighbors, business owners and civic groups such as:

    These groups assist large projects, new construction, or weeding. Consider providing lunch, water, gloves, tools, and a first-aid kit when a community group volunteers. Always send a thank-you note afterward.

    Invite people of different ages and cultures. People get involved at different times for different reasons.

  6. Decide garden roles.

    To make sure the garden lasts, and it keeps getting support on City land, it must have leadership roles. The garden permit application requires a list of garden leadership team members.

    The coordinating committee plans the community garden, and a leadership committee sustains it. The leadership committee includes a site coordinator, treasurer, tool coordinator, and compost coordinator. A person can be on both committees.

You may use the Community Gardens Permit Application Templateopen_in_new to record your lists of coordinating committee, committed gardeners and leadership committee.

Phase 1: Let's get this garden started 2 of 3

Choose a site for a community garden

While considering land for a community garden, think about location, terrain, sun, water, and permits required.

  1. There are pre-approved sites for community gardens. Use this mapopen_in_new to find an eligible site for your community garden.

    • The map works best on a desktop or laptop computer. Be sure to zoom in to the neighborhood level to see all of the possible garden sites.
    • The pink zones represent available pre-approved sites.

    If you want to build a garden on private property, scroll to the bottom of this page for more information on that process.

  2. Contact 811open_in_new to ensure that there are no utilities in areas where there will be digging. If there are utilities, find a different area or a different site.

  3. Test the soil at the proposed garden location for heavy metal contamination.

    You can use any soil test that includes heavy metals, such as this $25 Soil test from the University of Delaware Soil Test Programopen_in_new.

    Once a year, the Soil Kitchenopen_in_new offers free soil testing, but it has been cancelled for 2020.

    You will be asked to attach a PDF with your test results in your application. If the results show high levels of heavy metal contamination, you must:

    • Inform the sponsoring non-profit (it may affect their liability insurance).
    • Disclose the contamination in the membership agreement.
    • Grow edibles in garden beds rather than directly in the soil.
    • Re-test the soil annually.

  4. Estimate the size of the garden.

    Gardens range from only a dozen plots to over 80 plots. We recommend starting small, and leaving room to grow. Community Gardens typically will start with enough beds to meet the level of interest at the time that they are built, and they add beds over time based on needs and requests.

Considerations for privately-owned sites

If you want to use a site that has not been identified on the map, you will need to work with the community gardens coordinator at the City of Austin to ensure that it is an eligible site. Considerations include:

  • Is the garden visible and on a street with low traffic?
  • Is the garden larger than 4000 sq. ft.? Smaller lots in high-density areas can be approved. Work with the community garden staff.
  • Is the land reasonably flat or can it be terraced?
  • Does the garden get sun exposure most of the day?
  • Is there water access?
  • Is the location environmentally critical? Meaning it has:
    • Tree and natural protection
    • Landscaping
    • Fish/Wildlife
    • Wetlands
    • Construction on slopes
    • Erosion protection
    • Impervious cover
    • Environmental features
  • Can the location be developed?
  • Will you need a permit?
  • If privately owned (empty lot, by a church, etc.), you will need to obtain a lease agreement from the property owner. The Coalition of Austin Community Gardens provides some sample lease agreements.open_in_new
Phase 1: Let's get this garden started 3 of 3

Apply for your 1st community garden check-in

The first step in getting a community garden permit is to select a site and organize gardeners and garden leaders.

  1. Gather the following:

    • Address for the proposed community garden
    • Estimated number of plots
    • List of coordinating committee members
    • List of committed gardeners

  2. Submit the documents to the community gardens coordinator.

  3. Within two weeks of receiving your application, the community gardens coordinator will reach out to you for a check-in. At that time you will discuss any issues with your application and any questions about next steps.

Phase 2: Organize with your community

Phase 2: Organize with your community 1 of 3

Get a nonprofit sponsor and support for a community garden

The Community Gardens Program helps start gardens that the community supports and will benefit from. You will need a nonprofit sponsor, plus letters of support from residents, businesses, and community organizations in the area.

  1. Get letters of support from:

    • friends
    • neighbors (can be owners or renters)
    • neighborhood associations
    • neighborhood businesses
    • and key stakeholders (e.g., schools, churches, park users).

    Any neighboring entity or contiguous landowner must provide a letter of support. However, the more support you can get for the garden the better its chances of success. If the garden is next to or within a neighborhood with a Homeowner's Association (HOA), you can get a letter of support from the HOA rather than individual letters from each household. The Community Gardens Program provides an optional templateopen_in_new for letters of support.

  2. Get support from a sponsoring nonprofit in the form of a Memorandum of Understanding (MOU). The Community Gardens Program provides an optional templateopen_in_new for this MOU, but it should reflect the agreement between the community garden and the sponsoring nonprofit. The basic requirement of the MOU is that the nonprofit will provide liability insurance coverage for the garden and receive the water bill. This is available from the Austin Parks Foundation for gardens on city owned land. You may email Kathleen Barron at the Austin Parks Foundationopen_in_new at kathleen@austinparks.org.

    Any 501(c)3 nonprofit can support your community garden, but consider working with a nonprofit that knows the process, such as Sunshine Gardenopen_in_new, Austin Parks Foundationopen_in_new, Green Corn Projectopen_in_new, or Austin Green Artopen_in_new.

    Choose a nonprofit by considering their ability to assist with some or all of the following:

    • Technical support, including assistance creating and submitting your community garden permit application
    • Communicating with City staff and other community organizations
    • Finding grant money for garden design and building costs
    • Paying water bills
    • Keeping track of grant funds, donations, and plot rental fees
    • Recruiting volunteers to help install the garden

    After your community garden permit application is approved, the nonprofit will need to apply to the city for a License Agreement with the Office of Real Estate. The community garden coordinator will assist with this step.

Phase 2: Organize with your community 2 of 3

Start documents for a community garden

A community garden needs garden rules, a membership agreement, a budget and fundraising plan, and a timeline. To begin, you only need to submit a first draft of these documents, which will change as you go through the permit application process.

  1. Make garden rules.

    What rules will members follow? How will conflicts between gardeners be resolved? Who has keys to the site? How will the coordinating committee communicate with the garden members? Gardens must have rules, or bylaws, to help the garden succeed. See an optional template for this and all documents at the bottom of this page.

  2. Create a membership agreement.

    How will individual gardeners contribute to the garden? What fees will they have to pay, if any? How long do they commit for?

  3. Lay out a timeline.

    What events need to take place in order to successfully build your community garden? When do you plan for them to happen?

  4. Draft a first year budget and fundraising plan.

    Community garden budgets vary widely depending on their size and gardeners' choices. Whether you are planning for a small or a large garden, it is important to understand the resources required to start it and make a plan for how to obtain them. You can fund your community garden through:

    Various organizations have grants for which you can apply. Grant applications will state when the grants are due. Contact neighborhood groups, community service associations, and educational, cultural, ethnic, or religious organizations to find out about any grant opportunities they may have.

    We encourage you to reach out to other community garden leaders for more insights. The Coalition of Austin Community Gardens provides profiles for each garden.open_in_new

Phase 2: Organize with your community 3 of 3

Apply for your 2nd community garden check-in

Once you've gathered letters of support and drafted documents for your garden, send that to the community gardens coordinator and have an on-site meeting.

  1. Gather the following documents:

    • Memorandum of Understanding from a nonprofit
    • Letters of support from the community
    • Garden rules
    • Membership agreement
    • Timeline
    • Budget and fundraising plan for the first year

    Please read the pages on letters of supportopen_in_new and garden documentationopen_in_new for details.

  2. Submit these documents to the community gardens coordinator.

  3. Approximately two weeks after your submission, be ready to attend an meeting at the garden site between:

    • The garden's coordinating committee
    • The community gardens coordinator
    • Other city representatives, such as a Park Forestry representative
    • Representatives from other organizations (optional)

    We will discuss:

    • Your application packet, which includes the application you submitted at the 1st check-in, plus the new documents listed above
    • Early thoughts on garden design
    • Next steps

Phase 3: Prepare to build

Phase 3: Prepare to build 1 of 3

Design a community garden

Community garden design is driven by the unique characteristics of each site but every garden should include these details. The application requires a description and a sketch of your community garden design.

  1. Consider the following elements:

  2. Write a description of your community garden. It should include:

    • Why was this site selected?
    • How will the garden serve the community's needs?
    • When will the community garden be open to the public? Community gardens are required to be open to the public at least once per month.
    • Will the garden host demonstrations or workshops that will be open to community members?
    • How will you implement sustainable urban agriculture practices?
    • General plans for layout, irrigation and waste/composting.

    There is no required length for this document.

  3. Create a sketch of your community garden design.

    Your community garden sketch needs to be drawn to scale. Using a landscape architect is recommended, but not required. It will help in the site plan exception applicationopen_in_new. To meet site plan requirements your sketch should be at a 10 to 30 engineering scale or a 1/8” to 1/2” architectural scale. It should indicate, but is not limited to:

    • Existing trees and landscaping
    • Buildings
    • Parking areas and driveways
    • Roadways/streets
    • Accessible parking
    • Detention ponds
    • All areas of impervious cover (existing & proposed)
    • Erosion controls (i.e.: silt fencing, tree protection)
    • Limits and type of construction
    • Location of construction
    • On-site sewage (septic) system

    Some landscape architects offer reduced rates or are willing to do pro bono work for community gardens.

    The Coalition of Austin Community Gardens provides some sample garden designsopen_in_new.

For more details on planning a garden see Texas AgriLife Extension Service - How to Plan a Gardenopen_in_new.

Phase 3: Prepare to build 2 of 3

Get a site plan or a site plan exemption

A site plan is a detailed drawing of proposed improvements and construction on a lot which are reviewed for compliance with Austin’s land development code. Site plan exemptions speed up small projects' permitting process.

  1. Determine if you are eligible for a site plan exemption under Section 25-5-2 of the Land Development Codeopen_in_new .

    Note section subsection I: “A site plan is not required for development of a site solely for community garden use if the director determines that the overall plan does not exceed the exceptions described in subsections (B), (C) or (D).”

  2. Submit your application.

  3. You will be informed of the result of your application within 10 days via email. If you do not complete the overall process within 45 days of submitting your plan, the site plan will expire and a new site plan must be submitted.

    Site plans expire after 1 year.

Phase 3: Prepare to build 3 of 3

Get a community garden permit

Once you have your garden design and an approved site plan, you are ready to submit your community garden permit application. This is the third and final check-in.

  1. Make sure that you have already gone through the firstopen_in_new and secondopen_in_new community garden permit check-ins. If you have not, please see the full community garden permit guideopen_in_new for details.

  2. Gather the following documents:

  3. Submit all documents to the Community Gardens Coordinator.

  4. Pay the $50 application fee.

    Mail a check to:

    Attn: PARD Finance, 200 S. Lamar Blvd., Austin, TX 78704

  5. You will be contacted regarding your application within two weeks. Because you have gone through multiple check-ins and worked closely with the Community Gardens Coordinator, applications are typically approved. If an application is not ready to be approved, the Community Gardens Coordinator will communicate what is missing or needs to be revised.

  6. An approved community gardens permit application serves as a fee waiver for a water tap installation. The Community Gardens Coordinator will work closely with your team to get water to your garden.

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