The town has consistently said the past year that it has treated Josh’s Farmers Market the same as it treats every other business in Mooresville.
In fact, in Monday’s town board meeting, Commissioner Tommy Deweese, in reflecting on one year he’s spent as an elected official, stated: “The popularity status or position of an individual or business should not affect how we apply and follow the (rule of law). No one is above or immune to these laws. The laws … apply to everyone equally.”
But public records reveal that’s simply not true.
In fact, while town planners have repeatedly stalked Josh’s Farmers Market (JFM), snapping photos from a nearby parking lot before the market is even open for business and looking for any reason to cite Owner Josh Graham for violations, they’ve conveniently looked the other way for two other outdoor seasonal sales businesses in town that are comparable to JFM.
The “rule of law”
Since adopting its new Unified Development Ordinance (UDO) in February 2022, the town does not limit the number of days per year that outdoor seasonal sales businesses can operate. But it does limit the number of days those businesses can operate on the same parcel of property.
The UDO reads that outdoor seasonal sales — which include fireworks and seasonal agricultural products such as fruits, vegetables, meats, living plants, pumpkins and Christmas trees — “shall be limited in duration to a maximum of 120 days and there shall not be more than 3 seasonal sales on a lot per calendar year.”
The town interprets this to mean that one parcel of property can host outdoor seasonal sales for a maximum of 120 days per calendar year. Those days can be used together or spaced apart. But the parcel is maxed out for the year after three seasonal sales or 120 total days — whichever comes first.
For JFM, which operates nine months out of the year, that means the market has to tear down and move after 120 days, or approximately four months, on the same parcel of property.
In recent weeks, the market maxed out its 120 days at the site of the former Lions Club building at 630 Brawley School Road and moved to 558 River Highway, beside Duckworth’s Grill & Taphouse, where it will finish its 2023 season.
The town has provided no wiggle room for JFM in the 120-day ordinance, even stressing that the allotted days include set up and tear down of the market. Once the permit for JFM had expired on the YMCA property last fall, the town considered the market an illegal business, and it took measures to cite the YMCA as such, issuing notices of violation for everything on the property related to the market, down to signs that directed the elderly to curbside parking.
When the market moved to the old Lion’s Club property at 630 Brawley School Road, it was welcomed by Code Compliance Officer Rebecca Saunders, who was stalking the market from a nearby parking lot, taking pictures to later cite JFM for placing fresh gravel on an old gravel parking lot and having a wooden swing on the property that was meant for customer use.
Meanwhile, practically just across the street from that location, at 675 Brawley School Road, the town allowed a different outdoor seasonal sales business to operate for 139 days in 2022 — 19 days more than the UDO allows, public records show. Even when the business wasn’t operating and the property wasn’t permitted for outdoor seasonal sales, the town didn’t seem to notice the sign, tent frame and dozens of concrete blocks and pallets that were left on the property.
So far in 2023, the Town of Mooresville has granted permits for that property to host outdoor seasonal sales for 112 days. If the laws were enforced equally, that property would have eight remaining days for outdoor seasonal sales this year. But if the town permits the same number of days it did last year for Christmas tree sales on that parcel (38 days), then the property will have been permitted for 150 days this year — a month longer than the UDO allows.
Another example: The town, according to public records, permitted a parcel of property at 136 Morrison Plantation Parkway to be used for outdoor seasonal sales a grand total of 158 total days in 2022 — 38 days longer than the UDO allows. So far in 2023, the property was permitted for 49 days of outdoor seasonal sales for spring. The property is currently hosting an outdoor seasonal sales business for the fall season. If the town approves the same number of days this fall as it did last fall (97 days) for the property, then it will have permitted 146 days of use on that particular parcel of property — 26 more days than the “law” allows.
Meanwhile, when Josh’s Farmers Market had closed its most recent location at 630 Brawley School Road, the town’s code compliance officer was there, keeping eyes on the market as usual.
But back to Deweese’s comments on Monday: “We sometimes are accused of being harsh simply because we are following the rule of law and enforcing it equally.”
Should the town fail to apply the rules of law equally, he said, “the town should certainly be called out for it.”
About the cover photo:
On Oct. 15, 2022, Town Manager Randy Hemann took to the town’s official Facebook page with a lengthy diatribe explaining how Josh’s Farmers Market was operating outside the town’s brand-new ordinances. As part of that statement, he wrote: “The Town of Mooresville is proud of the partnerships we have with the approximately 1,800 businesses that call Mooresville home. We hope that Josh’s Farmers Market is able to continue to serve the residents of and visitors to Mooresville within the same guidelines that govern other businesses in our community.”