Town needlessly targeting farmers market

The town’s feud with Josh’s Farmers Market has stopped being about an ordinance and has instead turned into a dick-waving contest. 

The town says its ordinance compels it to deny the market a permit to operate since it sells items that are outside those listed in the ordinance. 

But the ordinance does not say what the town is saying it says. 

This week, Commissioner Gary West agreed that the wording in the town’s year-old ordinance is “vague and leaves room for interpretation.” 

And therein lies the problem. Does a reasonable way exist for the town to interpret the plain text of its ordinances to allow for the market to remain open? The answer is yes. Why, then, does the town persist in its efforts to force the business to close? 

Let’s look at the facts:

The town has rejected three recent applications submitted by Josh Graham, owner of Josh’s Farmers Market (JFM), who is attempting to operate in accordance with Planning Director Danny Wilson’s interpretation(s) of the town’s Unified Development Ordinance (UDO) for outdoor seasonal sales. 

Graham has previously received three such permits without incident under the UDO, which was approved in February 2022. 

According to Danielle Upright, the town’s land development specialist, Graham’s most recent applications were rejected twice in part because of items the market carries that the UDO doesn’t specifically define as “seasonal agricultural products.” 

The UDO states that “seasonal sales shall be limited to fireworks and seasonal agricultural products such as fruits, vegetables, meats, pumpkins, Christmas trees and living plants.”

The town has taken the position that only those items listed after “such as” can be sold. 

April 12 rejection notice
May 1 rejection notice

Graham requested clarification in response to the April 12 denial since the town has never stated the list of items was cause for concern or a reason to deny an application for outdoor seasonal sales. 

Graham’s April 13 request for clarification

Instead of offering a helpful response, Upright flippantly replied to Graham’s email with two UDO section numbers.

Upright’s “clarification”

The section of the UDO that Upright failed to include, however, is Section 9.1.5 — on Page 452 — where the ordinance literally defines “such as.” The plain language of the UDO makes clear that “such as” does not mean only the items listed after it.

The town’s UDO explicitly defines “such as”

In other words, the ordinance doesn’t say what the town is saying it says. It’s now more about egos and the town saving face. 

Commissioner Eddie Dingler said he’s unsure when or how the UDO morphed into something that allows the town to dictate specifically what a business sells: “When the town board reviewed the UDO, we dug into how many chickens you can have. We didn’t talk about how you sell your eggs,” he said.

JFM has not been a matter that’s made its way to Mooresville’s town board, which consists of the mayor and six commissioners — all elected officials.

Dingler said he has already approached Town Manager Randy Hemann about taking another look at the UDO specifically as it pertains to JFM. “I have asked him to come up with a compromise on the definition of seasonal sales because of the ‘such as’ wording in (the UDO),” he said. “I will make a request to the board to come up with its own interpretation and address this with staff.”

While Commissioner West repeated the town’s position that it needs to “ensure every business follows the same rules” without “creating a double standard,” he also acknowledged that the town’s “rules” aren’t very clear. 

“The language in the UDO needs to be improved and be more specific,” he said. “We need to look at providing specific and appropriate guidance in this document,” which he said “is a document that should be adjusted from time to time, to support the values and direction of what we all want Mooresville to be. 

“I do understand how popular JFM is and how hard Josh worked to build his business,” West said, adding he hopes “that we can work together to provide a compromise. 

“I am open to having conversations that can move this dialogue forward.” 

Two commissioners are all that’s needed to open a matter for public discussion in a town board meeting.

The rest of the board — including Mayor Miles Atkins and Commissioners Bobby Compton and Thurman Houston (all three up for election in November), along with Lisa Qualls (in whose ward JFM is situated) and the newest board member Tommy Deweese — declined to comment yesterday to a Scoop email in which we asked if they stand by their staff making rules up as it goes and operating outside the town’s own ordinances to cripple — with the goal of eventually shutting down — a small, local business that is trying to conduct business in keeping with those ordinances.


13 thoughts on “Town needlessly targeting farmers market

  1. I wish the Town Of Mooresville would see just how valuable and how much Josh Farmer’s Market means to this town and its people . Clearly he has operated here for decades and there seemed to be NO issues . I hope and pray the town can come to a good agreement to allow Josh to keep serving our town as he had for decades .

    I will be praying for this situation as we Need Josh Farmers Market , he provides us with local produce , fruits , items that cannot be bought in a local store .

  2. You are so right! This is personal someone on the board has it out for Josh. The Mayor and his cronies have ruined this city

  3. I am not a local resident of Mooresville, but someone who lives in an adjoining county that spends money at Mooresville businesses. That being said, it seems that the town of Mooresville is getting TOO BIG FOR THEIR BRITCHES! as the old saying goes. It seems very personal that a local government is telling a market the exact items that they can sell. Try that with Lowes Co. and see how that works for you. How about the town just enjoy the fact that a local small business is located in your city limits, being successful and PAYING TAXES, which pays your government salaries.

  4. It does seem like government overreach to dictate what a business can and is “allowed” to sell! No common sense in this matter is being used which does not show the elected officials in a good community sense. Has someone’s pockets been lined by another Market or business? It does look suspicious!!! But the bottom line is that the Elected Officials should handle Business that is detrimental to the community instead of beneficial as is JFM!! If not handled appropriately, then GET OUT as you aren’t doing your job!!

  5. Whatever happened to common sense? Give me a break. I honestly don’t want to live in Mooresville if this is the type of thing that the town government want to spend their time on. Unfortunately, they’ve turned this into a petty game.
    When I was recovering from breast cancer, the first time I actually got to enjoy a day out was a season opener at Josh’s at the YMCA. We met friends there, watched the band, at the donuts and bought a bunch of plants. I’d love to do it again. Do the right thing, Mooresville. Figure this out, it’s not that hard.

  6. I live outside the Town of Mooresville so I am not allowed to vote for the mayor and Town officials even though the decisions they make affect me. This is insane to not allow Josh’s to operate without all of these crazy restrictions. This produce stand attracts people from many different areas that spend their time and money in Mooresville. Wake up Mayor and other Town officials and see that this helps the economy of Mooresville! Instead of harassing Josh, spend your time on getting with the state to fix the problems with the stop light timing and places where stop lights are needed. Another issue…how many more housing developments can Mooresville handle?

  7. Let’s take an armchair view of this situation. We certainly have enough craft brewers, plus a distillery, in Mooresville. CBD distributors are popping up and don’t even get us started on the rampant construction on Rt. 150. Having a business such as Josh’s Farm Market has added a charming destination unlike any other in the area. I’ll show you my awesome fresh corn, zucchini, green beans and juicy cantaloupe and challenge you to find the same quality elsewhere. Limiting local access (and choices) seems like biting the hand that feeds you.

  8. Gosh this has been going on for 15+ years. All these temporary permits. Would it be easier to rent a building in city limits and adhere to business rules/laws as they are applied to all other small businesses? Couldn’t a large metal bldg with roll up doors suffice? Or stay at Raceway location permanently moving items in and out-this way no permit needed. Or open his market to all farmers (local farmer allowed to set up and represent homegrown products) which would be following rules for outdoor farmers markets. That way all local farmers would participate and it would be a legit “farmers market” per the towns rules. Beat them at their own game by applying their rules. The Salisbury and Charlotte cities have this type of permanent outdoor structures and have their markets year around.
    Both these examples sell EVERYTHING without limits! Look into Charlotte and Salisbury and see how their city ordinances are or are not different.

    1. Lol. Had I known not buying your corn a couple years ago would’ve upset you this much I would have bought it despite not needing it. I hope you were able to move on after my apology! I’m sorry. 😉

      Take care

      Josh Graham

      1. Josh, no I was never upset. I only answered your comment on that FB post about local products. We offered corn because it was local raised on my Mooresville farm, no gmo, no roundup, and a good Mooresville delicious crop. You said no you didn’t need it. I continued being a JFM customer😉. My MT post here – only trying to help. Maybe consider my points and apply to help establish a permanent JFM in Mooresville. The temporary permits seem to be the biggest issue. Beat them at their own game. Get that construction going on Sundowner. I’m sure you have a tremendous amount of money tied up in the purchase of that phenomenal location. Explore temporary entrance/exit on Sundowner. Or stay Raceway as a permanent rental property until completion of new JFM. Maybe you have researched these options. Love all items your business offers to our community. Best wishes finding a resolution❤️

  9. All this is to promote the Farmers Market “In Mooresville” in the new park area. The town is trying to put Josh out of business.
    I think if you follow the money and reason’s that will become very clear. The town does not want competition their market.

    Facts and nothing but the Facts

  10. Everywhere Randy Hemann lands a job, he screws up the town. I know of at least 2 towns, including Salisbury. He was over “Downtown Salisbury Association” which allowed him to make the rules for our Salisbury Farmer’s Market. He closed our market down at 12 noon on the 2 days they were open. Working people were using their 12 – 1 lunch break to shop at the market. Please don’t ask his advise on this issue. If you do, but don’t listen!

    By the way, Josh. I will drive from Salisbury to Mooresville to enjoy your Market. Good luck!

  11. My family drives into Mooresville every Saturday just to visit Josh’s. Someone from the family drives in every other day to see doctors, shop for groceries, meet friends for dinner or visit Lowes. That can all change. We don’t do it because we love driving HWY 150. Denver, Lincolnton, Newton and Hickory are more accessible but if we changed everything else, we would still visit to go to Josh’s. This “fight” for a small business to survive makes other small businesses to pay close attention and makes the public furious at the town council. I would never move a business into Mooresville after watching this fiasco.

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About Author

Hi! I’m Jaime

I was a newspaper reporter in Mooresville, NC for a decade and covered local government issues from 2003 to 2006.


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