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By Cynthia Washam
STUART — In their first meeting of the new year, Stuart’s city commissioners vowed to start taking a longer view of the city’s future.
Newly elected Mayor Eula Clarke called for the creation of a five-year budget, not just the one-year plan commissioners have been creating in recent years. Commissioners looked even further into the future later in the meeting, when they voted to join Seven50, a regional plan to chart Southeast Florida’s growth over the next 50 years. They ended by approving a plan for growing more produce on city lots, in an effort to foster better health and a sense of community.
“I’m pretty excited about it,” Fred Burkey said of the urban-farming ordinance. Burkey, who heads the Florida Yards & Neighborhood program at the University of Florida Extension in Martin County, spoke at the commission meeting Monday. “This is people getting together. It’s important we’re doing that.”
The ordinance wouldn’t change city zoning; Stuart allows community gardens throughout the city and small, commercial farms in limited areas. The ordinance, instead, would encourage more urban farming for the following reasons: Local farms and community gardens increase access to fresh produce, reduce transportation and processing, and provide opportunities for children to learn where food comes from. Community gardens also foster camaraderie among neighbors working together.
“This is an encouragement ordinance,” said Stuart planner Carly Aubrey.
The local effort is part of a nationwide movement to produce and sell food locally. The National League of Cities’ Healthy Communities Health Future campaign calls for improved access to fresh produce to reduce obesity. Fort Lauderdale, Tampa and West Palm Beach are among several Florida cities that have adopted urban-farming campaigns.
City commissioners asked if the program could include other local food sources.
Clarke suggested the city consider allowing chickens.
“I’d like to take a look at aquaculture,” Commissioner Troy McDonald added.
Development Director Terry O’Neil said he would look into their suggestions before the commissioners take a final vote on the issue at their next meeting.
A week after Indian River County and Vero Beach withdrew from what leaders there considered an outside threat to local control, Stuart commissioners unanimously voted to join Seven50 without hearing opposition. The 50-year planning initiative is headed by the Treasure Coast and South Florida Regional Planning councils. Participants will plan the region’s key issues including transportation, health care, housing, water and education.
Also at the meeting, commissioners gave their final approval to an amendment that will allow new restaurants in downtown Stuart to serve wine and beer. The vote overturns an ordinance that limited the amount of downtown floor space where alcohol could be served.