On Aug. 19, eight vendors who regularly sell at the weekly Flagler Beach Farmer’s Market got a worrisome letter from city government: “Kindly be advised,” the letter started, “that the approved types of market vendors permitted to conduct business at the Farmer’s Market may be changing.” The letter noted a proposed ordinance about to start going through the city’s deliberative steps and that, “contingent upon the ruling of the City Commission, certain vendors may be notified to cease operation.”
Zoee Forehand was stunned. She’s run the farmer’s market on her property in the center of town for 35 years, with her husband William. It’s what her attorney, Dennis Bayer, described as the longest-operating business under the same continuous ownership in the city. She never got the letter. She had to play catch-up, and did, getting her hands on the proposed ordinance and other records, and finding along the way that the city attorney had spent just over $1,000 to draft the proposed ordinance. She and William had been in frequent contact with Bruce Campbell, the city manager, but they were never previously told of the proposal.
The proposed ordinance does not go anywhere near suggesting that the market should be curtailed, let alone pushed out. But Bayer says “it’s so incomplete, it’s so ambiguous, it’s so vague,” that it can be interpreted to mean that the market’s operations will be curtailed, and its vendors micro-managed.
And the city administration appears to have severely bungled the roll-out of the proposal—first, by not giving the Forehands a heads-up that the proposal was coming, or engaging them in conversations ahead of time, since the ordinance e targets their business exclusively; second, by targeting individual vendors at the market and possibly alarming them needlessly; third, sending the proposal to the Planning and Architectural Review Board, the advisory board that first examines proposed ordinances before recommending approval or rejection to the commission.
When Bayer and the Forehands appeared before the commission Thursday evening to decry not only the method in which the proposal was rolled out, but the substance of the proposal, they got more sympathy than not from the commission.
“I guess it’s legal but it just doesn’t seem right,” Mayor Linda Provencher said, summing up the commission’s concerns.
“Your farmer’s market is as much of an icon as our pier, as our beach, as any other part of what we know Flagler Beach to be,” Commissioner Joy McGrew told the Forehands. She called the process “a faux pas.”
“It wouldn’t be the first time this commission has scrapped a whole regulation and started from scratch,” Commissioner Steve Settle said.
Bayer wanted the proposal scratched. Settle wouldn’t go that far. He wanted the Forehands, Bayer and the city attorney to confer and see what could be salvaged from the ordinance, and perhaps come up with a different draft before it makes its way to the PAR Board.
That’s what the commission agreed to. It was a substantial victory for the Forehands, but not the end of the battle. The city still wants some form of new regulation of the market on the books. But the difference is that this time, the market’s owners will be part of the original drafting process.
It’s not exactly clear how the proposal got as far as it did without more explicit direction from the city commission. In February the commission passed an ordinance regulating food trucks in town but exempted the Farmer’s Market, since its vendors are all mobile by definition. The presence on one occasion of a food truck that wasn’t a regular at the Farmer’s Market drew a complaint that contributed to the movement toward a new ordinance regulating the market. That proposal limits what sort of business may be at the Farmer’s Market, prohibiting, for example, food vendors who prepare food on site, for consumption on site. The proposal also sets out specific hours of operation for farmers’ markets, though those hours parallel those of the existing market.
“It’s not our intention to fill our property with food trucks,” Zoee Forehand said, but at the same time she did not want the city to dictate operations. “We’re really fighting for our business rights here, we should not be dictated to as to what we can and cannot sell.”
Forehand got an ovation from a large audience she had mobilized for the occasion.