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Milwaukee Commercial Farming Enterprises

Below is some basic information on how to start a for-profit urban farming enterprise in Milwaukee. If you have more questions, please contact HOME GR/OWN via e-mail or 414-286-3748.

Can I own a commercial farm in Milwaukee?

Yes. Your company would be considered a "Commercial Farming Enterprise." This category covers privately owned urban farms.

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What is the definition of a Commercial Farming Enterprise (CFE)?

A Commercial Farming Enterprise (CFE) is defined as a site where "the premise is used to grow and harvest plants or compost for sale to the general public, retail business or wholesale establishments. This use does not include community gardens or outdoor storage facilities."

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What is the process for starting a Commercial Farming Enterprise (CFE)?
  1. We suggest that all CFEs be developed in consultation with the alderperson of the district where the farm will be located. Find the alderperson here.
  2. All CFEs will require a Certificate of Occupancy. The City Development Center (841 N. Broadway, 1st floor) will help you complete the Certificate of Occupancy application. They can be reached at 414-286-8210. There is a $25 processing fee for a CFE Certificate of Occupancy, regardless of the number of lots.
  3. A CFE in an industrial or institutional zoned district is allowed as a permitted use.
  4. A CFE in a residential or commercially zoned district will require approval of a special use permit by the Board of Zoning Appeals (BOZA) approval. CFEs are a special use in these zoning districts. (A CFE that requires a special use permit will require an approved Site Plan).
  5. You can apply for a temporary Certificate of Occupancy for a site, which allows you to operate while waiting for the BOZA hearing. The processing fee for a temporary certificate is an additional $150.
  6. BOZA generally meets monthly and there are deadlines for submitting applications. A BOZA application requires a processing fee of $300 per lot under current rules. For a multi-lot, contiguous CFE site, it is possible that BOZA may reduce the per lot processing fee.
  7. If your CFE is required to receive BOZA review, BOZA will review your site plan and other information and issue the final approval/disapproval for the CFE. Upon BOZA approval, the City Development Center will issue a permanent Certificate of Occupancy.
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What can be grown or raised on a CFE property?

Food and non-edible plants. Examples of non-edible plants: trees, bushes, perennial plants, flowers. The new rules also allow composting to be a primary use on a CFE. The new CFE rules do not expand livestock production beyond existing rules for chickens, bees and aquaculture, which are allowed at a CFE with the correct permits. A CFE requires a Certificate of Occupancy.

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Can I raise chickens and bees as a Commercial Farming Enterprise?

Yes, chickens and bees raised on a CFE are regulated under the same rules as residential chicken and bee permits. The application and more information on Milwaukee’s chicken ordinance can be found HERE. Information on Milwaukee's bee ordinance and permit application can be found HERE.

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Can CFEs be located anywhere in the City?

No. Like other types of businesses, the City allows certain commercial activities in certain zoning areas. The City has six main types of zoning districts: Residential, Commercial, Downtown, Industrial, Parks, and Institutional. CFEs are allowed without a special use permit in Industrial and Institutional zoning districts. CFEs are not allowed in the Downtown zoning area. In all other zoning districts, a CFE requires a special use permit from Board of Zoning Appeals, or BOZA.

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Why is BOZA approval required for CFEs in residential and commercial zoning districts?

Because of the wide variety of commercial urban farms, and the potential for negative neighborhood impact, the City requires BOZA overview of the site plan and operations of the proposed urban farm in certain zoning districts. 

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Can I compost at a commercial farming enterprise?

Yes, but the size and placement of compost bins is restricted under current regulations. Compost bins must be no taller than 5 feet, covered and they cannot exceed 125 cubic feet. Click HERE for the City ordinance, Sec. 79-12.5.

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Is a shed or accessory structure allowed at a community garden or CFE?

Yes. City legislation now allows for accessory structures in the following circumstances: "No accessory building shall be located on a lot not containing a principal building, unless the principal use of the lot is for the raising of livestock , a community garden or a commercial farming enterprise. If a principal building or use on a lot is removed, any accessory building on the lot shall also be removed within 60 days and the premises made compliant with this code."

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What are the different types of accessory structures allowed on a community garden or CFE?

Accessory structures allowed include large agricultural building, hoop house, shed, and rain catchment systems.

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Q: How do I find out the zoning district for a lot or property online?
  1. Click HERE to access the Milwaukee Map Portal. Microsoft Silverlight is required.
  2. On the left, click on “I want to” shown in red in upper left corner. Click on “Find an address”.
  3. Enter the street address of the vacant lot (or a nearby known address) and click “Search”.





     
  4. On the left side of the screen, you will see a list of addresses, click on the correct address.










     
  5. and a box showing the address appears in the middle of the screen.











  6. Click “Zoom to Feature” and the map will take you to the address. A new pop-up box will appear with an arrow pointing to the specific lot.












     
  7. This will take you to the lot on the map. Click “View Additional Details”. Scroll down to see the zoning code designation shown in yellow below. 














If you have questions, please contact  Yves LaPierre in DCD Real Estate (414-286-5762).

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Can I sell vegetables and fruit grown on-site at a commercial farming enterprise?

Yes.

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Can I sell ornamental crops (flowers, perennials, shrubbery) that were grown on-site at a commercial farming enterprise?

Yes.

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