Vegetable Beef: Falcon Heights bans front-yard gardens amid dispute

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Front-yard vegetable and herb gardens aren't allowed in Falcon Heights anymore. The city adopted a temporary resolution, signed on May 13.

"I just grow food in my own yard," said Quentin Nguyen, who is at the heart of the controversy.

After Falcon Heights City Council received complaints about Nguyen's gardening project in his front lawn, they swiftly put an end to it, passing an interim ordinance banning front-yard gardens.

"The property owner was looking at forming a community garden. It was more on a larger scale," said Sack Thongvanh, Falcon Heights city administrator.

But Nguyen said it's not a "community garden" per se, more of a garden for neighbors.

"Everyone could stop by in your own time, do what you want to, take food home, just like a free small library people put in front of the house. There's no selling, no buying here at all," said Nguyen.

The interim ordinance is only temporary until the city gets more information and feedback to make a permanent decision.

"I have looked at the property," said Thongvanh. "The proposal, it is large scale. It is a massive garden."

Falcon Heights city code does, however, allow native plants and rain gardens.

A letter addressed to Nguyen from Mayor Randy Gustafson said in part:

"Current code does not provide for front yard vegetable gardens. Commercial/community gardens are currently not a use provided for in R-1 zoned properties. Had you made a phone call to City Hall in the planning stage of your project, you would have learned these facts and likely would have discovered that staff was willing to work with you to find a solution. Unfortunately, we can't move back in history, but fortunately we can move forward."

Read the full letter here.

Nguyen also takes issue with the letter, explaining the temporary ban was personally sent to him, without a discussion, and without input from the community.

"Several Falcon Heights residents reach out to me saying they've been having a vegetable garden in their front yard for years, and they did not receive a letter like that," said Nguyen. "I'm willing to work with them to find a best solution for every resident in Falcon Heights."

"What we're trying to do is make sure we have a thoughtful process, and making sure that we honor everybody in our community," said Thongvanh.

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City Councilmember Mark Miazga sent 5 EYEWITNESS NEWS a statement saying:

"First off, I want to apologize to residents for passing an interim ordinance based on input from two residents.  We always strive to cultivate a caring community but I think that, in retrospect, we made a mistake and should have voted for research and ordinance creation first without immediately banning vegetable gardens in front yards.  I think we will remain engaged with the community to get a strong ordinance that allows for as many uses of vegetable gardens passed while accounting for concerns of neighbors and I look forward to the continued engagement."

While some are complaining about this development, there are thousands who have signed a petition online asking the city council to reconsider.

Violating city ordinances can be cited as a petty misdemeanor. It has a maximum fine of $300.

The general council is expected to revisit the issue on Wednesday.