Although the Texas Right to Farm Act may eventually compel the Dallas City Council to revise some of its agricultural ordinances, the Quality of Life, Arts, and Culture Committee isn’t ready to make a recommendation to the governing body.

“It feels like it’s early,” Council Member Gay Donnell Willis (District 13) said. “It’s striking me that it’s not a step we would need to take at this point.”

Her remarks came during a committee meeting on Tuesday in which Casey Burgess, deputy chief of general council in the city attorney’s office, explained how four bills that became law in September might impact the City of Dallas — particularly its Comprehensive Urban Agricultural Plan.

“There were actually four bills that were passed during the last legislative session that amended Chapter 451 of the Agriculture Code,” he said. “It put some limitations on what cities can do in regard to regulating agricultural operations.”

The legislation — HB 1750, HB 2308, HB 2271, and HB 2947 — expanded the definition of “agricultural operation,” Burgess said. Specifically, HB 2947 added “the commercial sale of animals,” HB 2271 added “aquaculture,” and HB 2308 and HB 1750 included “producing crops or growing vegetation for … livestock forage and forage for wildlife management” and “veterinary services.”

“The definition is very, very broad,” Burgess said. “It also includes things like growing grapes, growing flowers, wildlife management, commercial sale of animals, fish farming, things like that. Really, the biggest bill that affects cities is HB 1750. [It] lists some of the imminent dangers that could be taken into consideration, and those are things that are pretty bad.”

Under HB 1750, a municipal governmental requirement does not apply to an agricultural operation within city limits unless the city complies with the requirements of Texas Agriculture Code Section 251.0055. Also, Chapter 251 of the Texas Agriculture Code defines a “governmental requirement” as “any rule, regulation, ordinance, zoning, license or permit requirement, or other requirement or restriction promulgated by a … city … that has the power to enact or promulgate the requirement or restriction.”

Burgess also said the Texas Agriculture Code requires the Texas A&M AgriLife Extension Service to develop a manual identifying generally accepted agricultural practices.

“The Texas A&M manual came out over the spring. Our office, as well as several other departments, pored over the manual to see how that would affect us. Probably the biggest one that seems like we have concerns about is the one about keeping roosters. … Also, it’s things that could be affected, like trapping animals and transporting animals in the open bed of a vehicle.”

Regulating weed and grass height and disposing of animal carcasses are also noted in the manual.

“[It] actually says that composting animal carcasses is a generally accepted agricultural practice,” Burgess said. “It did say that zoning was a governmental restriction that didn’t apply to agricultural uses. It applied to things like land use restrictions and lot sizes,” as well as tree conservation, the number of horses allowed per acre, private stable regulations, and animal production and crop production requirements.

The Texas Agriculture Code allows cities to continue enforcing government regulations if:

  • “Clear and convincing evidence” shows that the requirements’ goals cannot be addressed through less restrictive means and that it is necessary to protect persons in the immediate vicinity of the agricultural operation from imminent danger.
  • The city council makes a finding by resolution based on a report prepared by the city health officer or consultant that the requirement is necessary to protect public health.
  • The report includes an explanation of why it recommends a manner of regulation that will restrict “a generally accepted agricultural practice.”

“That would go to city council, and you guys would adopt that as a resolution,” Burgess said. “If we meet those requirements … we can continue to do that enforcement. But for some reason, Chapter 251 says you have to go through that exercise.”

“That exercise” involves using the city’s public health officer (Dallas does not have one in its employ) or hiring a consultant.

“Would you like us to go through that process?” Burgess said. “Hire a consultant? Or would you like us to start the code amendment process, maybe to not regulate agricultural operations? How would you like us to move forward?”

Some committee members, including Council Member Paula Blackmon (District 9), seemed confused about why Burgess was asking the question.

“You want to hire a consultant to look at what we can and can’t enforce of the bill?” she said. “Why can’t the city attorney’s office do it? You’re technically the advisor on legislative matters. Why should we spend money on this?”

Burgess clarified that he was not recommending hiring a consultant.

“I’m not saying I want to do that, but the bill does say that’s the steps the city can go through. The bill does specifically say it has to be done by a city health officer or a consultant. We can look at that cost of it and see if somebody on staff can potentially do that for us.”

Willis said the city wants “to be aware of any public health hazards.”

“But how much of this do we really feel like is going on?” she added.

Jeremy Reed, an assistant director with the Department of Code Compliance, referenced a few instances citywide where the new laws could apply in Dallas, including when a resident in the Central Business District “basically converted their entire front yard into a fruit farm.”

“So, they had a greenhouse and fruit trees up to the sidewalk,” he said. “It’s a single-family home. There are certain aspects for safety when it was outside their property line we could enforce. Inside their property line, we could not enforce, and neighbors were upset about that.”

Still, Willis wasn’t convinced such a situation warrants contracting a consultant.

“I don’t feel like a dozen calls merits this.”

Council Member Adam Bazaldua (District 7), the committee’s chair, suggested meeting with DeWayne Burns, the author of HB 1750, before making a recommendation to the city council.

As previously reported by The Dallas Express, some stakeholders have voiced frustration with the number of burdensome regulations maintained by City officials.