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