Posted by: Patricia Salkin | February 9, 2018

Florida Appeals Court Upholds Ban on Front Yard Vegetable Gardens

The post was authored by Amy Lavine, Esq.

 

The Florida Court of Appeals upheld a zoning law that banned front yard vegetable gardens in the 2017 case Ricketts v. Village of Miami Shores. The court concluded that homeowners have no fundamental right under the Florida constitution to grow food in their front yards, nor is such activity protected by the state constitution’s right to privacy.

 

The Ricketts began growing vegetables in their front yard in 1996. At the time, the Village of Miami Shores zoning ordinance stated that vegetable gardens were permitted in rear yards, but the village amended this provision in 2013 to clarify that vegetable gardens were permitted “in rear yards only.” Following this zoning change, the village issued the Ricketts a notice of violation and ordered them to remove their garden. The Ricketts objected to the new restriction on front yard vegetable gardens and emphasized that they’d maintained their vegetable garden for nearly 20 years and without any previous complaints from neighbors or village officials. The code enforcement board declined to provide any reason for the shift in policy, however, and sustained their zoning violation. The Ricketts filed a pro se appeal, but with the looming threat of daily fines they later decided to withdraw their appeal and bring their yard into compliance. When they were able to obtain legal counsel several months later they filed the instant case, which raised facial claims under the Florida Constitution and zoning laws.

 

In its first finding, the court determined that rational basis review was appropriate and rejected the Ricketts’ argument seeking strict scrutiny instead. The Ricketts argued that more intense scrutiny was needed because the ordinance had violated their fundamental rights under the state constitution, both by preventing them from using their private property to grow food for themselves and by infringing on their right to privacy. Even if the Ricketts had some fundamental right to use their property to grow food, however, the zoning ordinance didn’t ban vegetable gardens entirely but merely restricted them to rear yards. And while the Ricketts claimed that they had a right to be free from government intrusion into “choices concerning food,” the court again emphasized that the zoning ordinance didn’t actually prevent them from growing vegetables on their property. Additioanlly, this was not the type of situation covered by the constitution’s protection of food choices, which the Florida Supreme Court had only recognized in a case involving the withdrawal of nutrition from a terminally ill patient, and the Ricketts failed to show any basis for extending similar privacy rights to vegetable gardens.

 

Having determined that the Ricketts did not have any fundamental constitutional rights to grow vegetables in their front yard, the court moved on to their remaining zoning claims. Applying rational basis review, the court concluded that the zoning ordinance was sufficiently related to legitimate municipal interests to withstand the Ricketts’ challenges. The preamble to the landscaping provisions in the zoning code explained that the regulations were intended to protect and promote the village’s appearance, maintain the area’s distinctive character, and preserve property values. It was at least fairly debatable, the court held, that the restriction on vegetable gardens was rationally related to these interests, as “a vegetable garden occupying most of the appellants’ front yard… could signify a conflict between the Village’s decorative standards for front yards… and an agricultural use based on the cultivation of vegetables for consumption.” The court also rejected the Ricketts’ argument that the ordinance relied on vague or ambiguous “aesthetic” standards because Florida caselaw firmly supported the general validity of zoning regulations based primarily on aesthetics, and in this case, there was nothing vague or unclear about the terms “vegetable” or “garden.”

 

Ricketts v. Vill. of Miami Shores, 2017 WL 4943772 (11/1/17), review denied 2018 WL 794717 (2/9/18).


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