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Health, Science, Environment

St. Louis Board Of Building Appeals Upholds City Decision To Condemn Urban Farm

Perennial City Composting co-founder Tim Kiefer at his small chicken farm in Visitation Park on June 19, 2020.
File photo/Eli Chen
St. Louis Public Radio
Perennial City Farms co-founder Tim Kiefer at his small chicken farm in Visitation Park in June.

Updated at 1:26 p.m. Aug. 24 with the Board of Building Appeals ruling

The St. Louis Board of Building Appeals has denied an urban farm owner’s appeal to keep his operation open.

The board ruled Monday that a city building inspector correctly condemned Perennial City Farms because its owner, Tim Kiefer, lacked building and occupancy permits.

“I think the city’s presentation of evidence was obvious that the appeal should be denied,” board member Joanne Morris said.

Kiefer could try to reopen his operation if he obtains the proper permits or appeals the board's decision in court.

Original story from 8/21:

St. Louis officials condemned an urban farm north of Delmar Boulevard that has operated for more than two years without the proper permits.

A building inspector shut down Perennial City Farms in June for operating without a permit in Visitation Park, a residential neighborhood. City officials said the farm needed an occupancy permit and to be rezoned.

Tim Kiefer, who owns Perennial City Farms, appealed the decision and is fighting to keep it open. But some people who live near the farm want it closed permanently.

“Everything begins with a permit process, and he has not followed any of the procedures with the city to do the much-discussed and unaccepted work that he’s done on Cabanne Avenue,” building inspector Bob Benner told the Board of Building Appeals on Thursday.

During an appeals hearing on Thursday, Kiefer told the board that the Land Reutilization Authority informed him that an urban farm did not need an occupancy permit if it did not have a permanent structure. He purchased the four parcels of land off Cabanne Avenue in 2018 from the LRA.

Kiefer blamed the city for failing to give him clear guidance on what permits he needed to reopen.

“I’ve been in and out of three different division offices,” he said. “No one within the building division was able to help me with the ordinance violation that I’d been given.”

Since July 2019, several neighbors have sent in numerous complaints to the Citizens' Service Bureau about the farm’s foul-smelling compost. The complaints attracted the St. Louis Health Department’s attention, which found double the number of chickens allowed on a property during inspection.

City zoning officials said Thursday that they have told Kiefer he cannot operate without a permit and have given him information on how to apply. A health inspector also said he told Kiefer he could not operate without a small farm animal permit.

Keifer said that since the farm is an educational facility, he should be exempt from certain ordinances. But many of the farm’s neighbors on Windermere Place said Kiefer’s business is largely a commercial operation, selling compost.

He has said that his farm's mission is to teach the community to grow food and transform vacant lots into urban farms.

Kiefer said he moved most of the chickens and compost to another location on July 13. The Citizens’ Service Bureau subsequently investigated a complaint of “unusual fumes/odors in the air” and found no evidence of violation at the farm. Animal Care and Control is still investigating a complaint.

But even if the farm no longer smells, neighbors said they still want it closed.

“This just brought home to me the fact that Black lives do not matter, it’s not just in terms of treatment from police,” said Tullia Hamilton, who lives behind the farm on Windermere Place. “Everybody knows you can do almost anything you want to do north of Delmar.”

Alderwoman Shameem Clark-Hubbard, D-26th Ward, said the farm has been one of the biggest issues in her ward since she was elected last year. Kiefer’s operation is an example of a white, privileged person assuming they can run a business without permission in a Black neighborhood, she said.

Not all residents are against the farm. Adrienne Gaines has been living on Cabanne Avenue for over 30 years. Before Kiefer repurposed the land, Gaines said, it was an eyesore.

“It was full of trash and considered a nuisance property,” Gaines said.

The garden is a good contribution to the community, Gaines said. Kiefer taught her and other neighbors to grow vegetables, but she said neighbors on Windermere Place have not taken the time to understand Kiefer’s mission.

The Board of Building Appeals is expected to announce a decision on Monday.

Clarification: An earlier version of this story did not specify when Tim Kiefer moved most of the chickens and compost from his urban farm. He did so on July 13.

Follow Kayla on Twitter: @_kayladrake

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