The Falcon Heights City Council on Wednesday night upheld its controversial ban on front-yard vegetable gardens after dozens of neighbors on both sides of the issue made impassioned pleas.
The ban, enacted May 13, drew immediate criticism from homeowner Quentin Nguyen, who said he felt targeted because he had just plowed up his large front yard for what he called a neighborhood garden.
More than 10,000 people have signed an online petition in support of Nguyen, 24, whose project became something of a cause célèbre. Said one supporter: "The right to grow our own food is a fundamental freedom here in the United States and around the world."
More than 150 Falcon Heights residents also signed a petition in support of front-yard gardens.
The council agreed to reconsider the issue, but ultimately voted 3-2 to uphold the ban after nearly three hours of public comments and debate.
Nguyen, a host at a local casino, said he was inspired to create a community garden on his two-thirds-acre lot where neighbors could grow vegetables and foster community spirit. He created a social media group, shared his idea with neighbors and spent more than $1,000 on soil and mulch.
City officials spotted his garden plans online, and the council quickly passed the front-yard vegetable garden ban. Nguyen got a letter from the city ordering him to stop.
The ordinance bars such front-yard gardens for up to a year to give city staffers time to "research garden standards in other communities." City Administrator Sack Thongvanh told the council that the yearlong process would ensure that neighbors' rights are considered.
Several neighbors expressed their concerns about the traffic and commotion that a community garden may cause and said the council should not be swayed by a community of "online activists" who don't live in the city.
"The city should set guidelines so people are not coming and going at all hours of the day and night," said neighbor Scott Wilson, who is also on the city planning commission. "Who is going to police this?"
Others spoke in defense of Nguyen. "Front-yard gardens are good for Falcon Heights," said neighbor Mary Rogers, an assistant University of Minnesota professor who researches urban agriculture.
Mayor Randy Gustafson said days after the original vote that the city had always technically banned front-yard gardens. City code written in the 1950s allows only turf grass, trees and shrubs in the front yard.
Nguyen said he wanted to help neighbors serve healthy meals — especially important now that the food supply is being disrupted due to COVID-19, he added.
And logistically, he said, his front yard is just better suited for veggies. It's larger and it gets more sun than the back.