After two long years and an hour of robust discussion this morning, commissioners on Monday could take the first big step toward making the long-standing business model of Josh’s Farmers Market — one of the community’s oldest and most cherished small businesses — legal again.
In its regular monthly meeting on Monday, the board is expected to vote on an ordinance to allow open-air agricultural markets. As an “unconditional use,” the indoor/outdoor agricultural markets will not be able to exceed 35,000 square feet in size, and at least a half-mile must separate businesses with similar uses. Any market exceeding 10,000 square feet must have permanent structures while smaller markets can operate only six months at a time.
In February 2022, Town of Mooresville planners effectively wrote Josh’s Farmers Market’s long-standing business model out of town ordinances. In October of the same year, JFM continued to operate even after its town-issued permits had expired and the town refused to issue further permits.
Threatening hefty fines against the Lowe’s YMCA, where the market was situated, the town was finally able to force the market’s closure on Oct. 31, 2022. Since then, JFM has operated as “outdoor seasonal sales,” packing up and moving to a different property every 120 days.
The community responded by voting out essentially half the town board in last November’s elections. The then-town manager and planner left Mooresville, too.
Perhaps not surprisingly, current town board members brought differences of opinion about the proposed open-air market ordinance to this morning’s agenda briefing, including whether a market should be a conditional or unconditional use — and if that designation should change based on the market’s size. They discussed “unintended consequences,” age-restricted items like CBD and marijuana (if it’s eventually legalized), storage sheds, businesses being treated fairly across the board and how big is too big for an open-air market.
“When you’re looking at an ordinance, you have to think of all the different groups that could want to use it — not just the ones already here,” Mayor Chris Carney said after this morning’s meeting. “We have to protect our community from unwanted uses to make sure we don’t get something we don’t want just because we’re working hard to keep something we do want in the community.”
He said honest dialogue — in the public’s eye — is going to be the new norm in Mooresville. “I know watching the sausage being made was painful,” he said about this morning’s meeting.
But while any other board may have determined an outcome behind closed doors or tabled a decision when board members didn’t immediately agree, “We are going to be transparent with the public,” Carney said. “Everybody in that room wanted to see the same thing at the end of the day; it was just the parts and pieces that had to be worked out. There was nothing that the seven of us couldn’t figure out together, and we didn’t do it behind the public’s back.
“Human beings don’t always agree, and it’s okay,” the mayor continued. “It’s healthy to argue a little bit, and we have a better ordinance for it. That’s the way government is supposed to look.”
During this morning’s discussion, Commissioner Gary West — who has worked closely with now-Mayor Pro Tem Eddie Dingler for months on finding a potential solution for the market — expressed concern that commissioners could “tweak this (ordinance) to the point that it’s unusable.”
This afternoon, West said he is proud of the board, excited for the market’s future and thankful that Carney helped push this project over the finish line. “This is about supporting small business and multiple businesses that also rely on Josh’s Farmers Market to put food on their table while providing a great benefit to our community,” West said. “It has been a long and sometimes painful journey to get here.”
And now, he said, “Let’s move forward.”
The board is scheduled to vote on the open-air market ordinance at its regular monthly meeting on Monday, Feb. 5, beginning at 6 p.m. in Town Hall. The meeting is open to the public.