Thursday, May 7, 2009

The Farmer's Market Debate and How it Affects Springfield

Should the City of Dunwoody allow a for-profit farmers' market to operate on the grounds of St. Patrick's Church off North Peachtree Rd. It's a very touchy subject currently before our City Council. A lot of Dunwoody residents say they want it, but an equal number say if we allow it, what's next? Would we be opening Pandora's Box to For-Profit operations on all 37 church properties in Dunwoody?
I'm not against a for-profit farmers' market in Dunwoody, but I am against a farmer's market on a church property zoned residential. What if the two churches on Chamblee-Dunwoody Rd. behind Springfield decided they wanted farmers' markets? Or some-type of flea markets?
I think it's a bad idea. Let the farmers' markets operate in commercial areas. I have no problem with that.
Below is a letter that Councilman Robert Wittenstein wrote to his constituents in favor of the market. In paragraph five he says it's a not-for-profit Green Market. While that is technically correct, bottom line, those that sell produce on the grounds are doing so to make money.

Dear Dunwoody Friends and Neighbors,

There must be a law somewhere that says that if no controversy exists, one will be created for a city. It appears that nature really does abhor a vacuum.
Here is the background.
For several years now, on Wednesday mornings, a small group of local farmers has operated a growers-only Green Market on property next to the Spruill Arts Center on Ashford Dunwoody Road. This has always been a violation of DeKalb County code, but the county ignored the market. The market has a base of local customers who cherish the ability to get (mostly organic) local produce during the growing season.
The Spruill Arts Center expects to break ground this year on a mixed-use development and they notified the market organizers that they would have to find a new location this year. Several months ago they began looking for a new home. They evaluated several locations and finally settled on St. Patrick’s Episcopal Church on North Peachtree. The Church has generously offered to open their building to provide bathrooms, a playground for the children, and water and electricity as part of their community outreach. In return, the growers are prepared to offer the church fresh produce for the church’s Malachi ministry to feed the hungry.
Now comes the controversy. The not-for-profit Green Market discovered that we had adopted DeKalb’s code en mass and that there was no legal location for such a market in Dunwoody. With the encouragement of several members of the city council, a text amendment to our zoning code was drafted that allows a temporary farmers market (up to 40 time per year) to be classified as an ‘incidental use’ for a church or other religious institution. The definition of Farmers Market was crafted very tightly to restrict the participants to actual local growers to prevent a flea market from taking advantage of the provision.
The Dunwoody Community Council voted unanimously in favor of the zoning change. The Dunwoody Planning Commission had a spirited discussion and a public hearing where a dozen Green Market supports spoke. They voted 4-3 in favor of the changes.
Meanwhile, an opposition group has formed. Several Dunwoody residents object to allowing this type of activity at a church site that is zoned Residential. They are concerned that this sets a dangerous precedent and that it will lead to a slippery slope of commercial development in residential areas. As written, this zoning amendment would allow a group of local farmers to sell their produce at any or all churches and synagogues in Dunwoody, provided the church or synagogue invited them.
Two new wrinkles now complicate the issue.
First, a group of supporters suggested to the Green Market that they relocate to the unused paved area next to (and overlooking) the Dunwoody Post Office in Dunwoody Village. This is US Government owned land and not subject to our zoning ordinances. If the Post Office will allow the use, that would solve the need to modify our zoning codes. The Post Office site has the advantage of being in a commercial area
but it lacks bathrooms, shade and a playground, but it would be better than losing the market all together.
Second, a re-reading of our zoning code by Brian Anderson, our City Attorney, confirms that our current code allows for an applicant to receive a temporary, 90-day, permit from the city for a seasonal sale. This doesn’t require a change in the zoning ordinance but it also doesn’t provide any assurance to the market that they will be able to stay in the same spot for the whole growing season. They would have to get a new 90-day permit in August (or move to the Post Office site).
Meanwhile, several other nearby cities (including Sandy Springs) have encouraged the market to abandon an obviously unsupportive Dunwoody for greener pastures (yes, pun intended) while the market’s local fans and customers fight to keep it here. One of the supporters has dubbed this “the battle for the legal local tomato.”
It all comes to a head this week.
At some level, this is a silly argument that will be little remembered in the life of a city even if it gets publicity this week and this month. At another level, this is what being a city is all about. This dispute is raging in Dunwoody, not in Decatur. This is the first opportunity for the city to start to define what is important to it. On the one hand we have folks who have fought commercial development in residential areas for years; on the other hand we have folks who want to be able to walk from their neighborhood to a local farmers market.
What is important to you? Please let me know what you think.
If the temporary permit is issued this week, the zoning amendment probably won’t come up for a vote at our meeting on Monday, May 11.
Finally, on a different topic, I am so tremendously proud of our new Dunwoody Police Department. They are doing a super job and I am very impressed with their dedication and professionalism. The department’s command leadership has done a wonderful job.

Robert Wittenstein
City Council, City of Dunwoody
Home: 770-396-4747

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