Wednesday, March 2, 2016

Changing Hartford’s Zoning Codes for the Better

by Sara C. Bronin

Despite being a highly dense urban environment, Hartford is on a path toward being one of the more sustainable cities in the country.  In January 2016, Hartford’s Planning & Zoning Commission passed sweeping changes to its zoning code.  As chair of the Commission, I thought friends of NOFA might be interested in learning more about a few relevant facets of the new code: community gardens, urban farming (including bees & hens), farmers’ markets, and artificial turf.


Community Gardens 

Author Sara Bronin at a Knox beekeeping workshop in Hartford
Hartford has about 20 fabulous community gardens, serving local residents, in nearly every neighborhood.  The community gardens are coordinated by great organizations like Knox Hartford.  The old zoning code didn’t allow community gardens anywhere — even though so many already existed.  The new code allows them to be sited anywhere in the city, under certain conditions, legalizing a valuable public asset.  The conditions include provisions for soil safety, access to a water supply, properly enclosing equipment, and the use of exclusively organic chemicals on the gardens.

Urban Farming (including Bees & Hens) 

The new zoning code also addresses urban farming for the first time.  At least 4 urban farms have been operating in Hartford for years (run by Hartford Food System, but before January, they were not expressly anticipated by the zoning code.  Under the new code, urban farms are allowed everywhere except in downtown and in the high-density commercial corridors.  The code adopts the same requirements for food production as is the case for community gardens and says that urban farmers can’t operate loud equipment except during certain hours.  Importantly, we have recognized the importance of urban beekeeping, and Hartford now allows beekeeping everywhere in the city!  Up to 10 colonies can be sited on large lots, and the beekeepers can sell their honey at local farm stands.  Hens, too, are now a "protected class" in Hartford.  We allow up to 6 hens to be kept, but require biosecurity and water/waste management practices to be instituted.  Henhouses, like bee hives, must be located a distance away from property lines, to help ensure that these urban farming uses are more compatible with their surroundings.

Farmers’ Markets 

There are 7 farmers’ markets in Hartford, and they too are finally addressed in the new code.  Recognizing the value that access to fresh, local food provides to our residents, we allow farmers’ markets in every zone in the city.

Artificial Turf

Finally, it is worth noting that the City of Hartford now bans synthetic infill for artificial turf — any man-made infill from recycled or virgin materials, including but not limited to ambient and cryogenic crumb rubber, coated crumb rubber, ethylene propylene diene monomer granules, thermoplastic elastomer granules, and recycled footwear.  We allow organic infill, including coconut husks, cork, rice husks, and sand.  Until we learn more about the real impacts of artificial turf, we felt it was prudent to avoid exposing our citizens to this potentially hazardous material.

To all of you who aren’t yet familiar with Hartford, come visit us as a place to live, work, and play…  We’re a small city that packs a sustainable punch!  


  1. Kudos to you!! As a former municipal board chair, I know how much effort (and patience) it takes to alter any regulation. We had to change our code to specifically include stormwater ccontrols.
    Thanks for the inspiration,

  2. When will the Town of Newington allow for Beekeeping and backyard chickens?