Town staff tightening screws on farmers market

Town staff is proposing text amendments to its ordinances — not to help Josh’s Farmers Market as requested by elected officials, but to kill it. 

The amendments are buried in the 500-page Unified Development Ordinance (UDO), listed as a mere attachment (among several others) titled “UDO pack 2 edits” on the town’s planning board agenda for tomorrow, June 13. To see the agenda for yourself, click here.

This is just the latest middle finger from Town Manager Randy Hemann and his planning staff to elected board members who recently directed staff to find a solution for the longtime local market to remain open while building its permanent home.

The overhaul of the year-old ordinances includes two — farmers market and outdoor/seasonal sales — that have been at the center of legal arguments for months as the town has targeted Josh’s Farmers Market (JFM) to force it to close.

The town’s planning department — intentionally or not — wrote the market’s longtime business model out of the new UDO. In the months since the UDO’s approval in February 2022, planners have staunchly stood by the poorly written ordinances, saying their hands are tied to help the market because, in Planning Director Danny Wilson’s words, “the ordinance is the law.”

“Everything in the Unified Development Ordinance is the law of the town,” he informed the town board last month. “My job is to enforce the ordinance and interpret the ordinance. I cannot make it up.”

But he did make it up. And he’s making it up again as he goes — just like he’s been making up “interpretations” of the ordinances, saying that they say things that they simply do not say. 

All along, Wilson has contended that JFM is not a farmers market or outdoor seasonal sales, though his department has approved permits four times for JFM under the latter since the new UDO was adopted. Instead, Wilson says, the market is a “retail sales establishment.”

And now, months into his circus show, he’s making sure the ordinances say the same. 

Perhaps the closest we will ever get to town staff acknowledging the obvious weaknesses in its ordinances — and how personal the issue with JFM has become — is to compare what the ordinances currently say to what staff butchered them to say to further stick it to the market.

Farmers market

Here’s the town’s current ordinance for farmers market:

Here are the changes to the one-year-old farmers market ordinance planners are seeking:

Town staff is proposing that its farmers market use be changed from permanent to temporary. The text amendment, if approved by the planning board and eventually the town board, would further restrict JFM in the following ways: 

  • Farmers markets may operate for no more than three days per week.
  • At least 10 farmers and/or vendors must be present and selling produce and goods while the market is open.
  • Sales of food and food products shall be required for a minimum of 80 percent of the booths. No longer will arts and crafts be able to be prepared on- or off-site.
  • Food and food products may only be allowed as long as they are grown, harvested, raised or made in N.C. or adjacent states. (The ordinance currently states that food products are allowed if the principal ingredients or components are grown on-site or within adjacent states.)
  • Customer walkways shall be hard-surfaced with asphalt, concrete, brick or pavers.
  • Buying and reselling of goods is prohibited (i.e. purchasing products from a farm or other outlet to sell at the farmers market by a third-party vendor).
  • State inspections for “bona fide farmers markets” shall be followed.

While town staff has consistently told Josh Graham, owner of Josh’s Farmers Market, that he isn’t a farmers market — and now it’s making rules to ensure it — Graham requested on April 19 that the town officially designate him a farmers market. This is apparently a formal process that Graham was unaware of until the town had already forced the market’s closure on Oct. 31 at the YMCA in Morrison Plantation. 

In the resulting Board of Adjustment hearings, in which Graham’s lawyers argued against heavy fines the town attempted to levy against the YMCA, Wilson said Graham would need to have an official designation from the town to be considered a farmers market. 

Graham’s lawyers pressed the town on this, asking Wilson if he had ever told Graham that he needed an official farmers market designation. “That is something we do,” replied Wilson. “Whether or not I did it explicitly in this case, I cannot recall.” 

Graham has not received a reply from the town on his April 19 request for a farmers market designation, though the town’s stated deadline to respond to Graham was April 28 at 2 p.m. Graham sent a follow-up message to the town on June 6. The town has not replied.

Outdoor/Seasonal sales

Since last year, the town has granted JFM four temporary permits for outdoor seasonal sales. But changes pitched in the text amendments would prevent the market from qualifying for that permit, too. 

After defending the wording of its outdoor seasonal sales ordinance for months, town staffers are finally acknowledging it was poorly written, proposing a text amendment that corrects the current stated number of days that seasonal businesses can operate on a parcel of property per calendar year. 

Here’s the town’s current outdoor seasonal sales ordinance:

Here are the changes town staff would like to see made to their one-year-old outdoor seasonal sales ordinance:

Among other changes town staff is proposing to its outdoor seasonal sales ordinance that would directly impact JFM’s longstanding business model in Mooresville:

  • The permit is only valid for one vendor selling items on a property at one time.
  • A property may only have one vendor at a time.
  • Sales shall be limited in duration to a maximum of 120 days on a property per calendar year.
  • There shall not be more than three seasonal sales on a property per calendar year (i.e. spring flowers for 40 days, summer vegetables for 40 days, and Christmas trees for 40 days).
  • No trailers, storage containers, or accessory structures may be placed on the property for storage or use.
  • No impervious coverage may be added to a site.

If the planning board approves the text amendments, the matter would then move to Mooresville’s town board. 

I’ll be bringing the popcorn to that one.


2 thoughts on “Town staff tightening screws on farmers market

  1. Wilson needs to be gone. He is bad for Mooresville. When someone shows you who they are, believe them !
    I dont believe you would call anyone a liar unless you were sure. Thank you for your time that it has taken you to do your research.
    Secretly. That’s THE main reason the Board gets exactly what they want. Half stories spread by any government employee should warrant immediate dismal. Any attempt by a Town employee to hinder or STOP a business from operating should warrant immediate dismal.
    Any Town employee that deliberately lies to the Town Board should be FIRED and “run out of town “.
    Thank you again.

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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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