The Albemarle County Planning Commission has recommended changes to county regulations that could make it easier to establish new farmers markets.
At its meeting last week, the commission voted, 5-0, to recommend making farmers markets a by-right use in Albemarle’s rural areas and village residential zoning districts if they meet several performance standards. Commissioners Pam Riley and Daphne Spain were absent from the meeting.
Pending approval by the Board of Supervisors, the zoning text amendment would allow farmers markets to open in some locations without a special-use permit.
Farm stands — which are defined as having just one vendor — were designated by the Board of Supervisors as a by-right use in 2010.
In October, supervisors adopted a resolution of intent to amend regulations for farmers markets and to consider allowing farmers markets to be a by-right use.
The amendment proposed by staff would allow by-right farmers markets to operate up to two days per week. It also would require the market to be located on a property with an approved site plan.
A staff report to the Planning Commission said most properties in rural areas with approved site plans are occupied by churches and schools.
The proposed performance standards would prohibit by-right farmers markets from being open when the primary use of the property is in operation.
“… The impacts will be minimal and the site will be able to accommodate the use,” the report reads. “Staff also sees farmers markets at schools as a form of public-private partnership that could further build agriculture’s relationship with the broader community.”
The performance standards also would prohibit the markets from using lighting or amplified sound.
Bill Fritz, chief of special projects for Albemarle’s Office of Community Development, said by-right farmers markets would be obligated to comply with the property’s site plan.
“They can’t be setting up parking areas outside of the parking lot,” Fritz said. “There would be some obligation on them to organize the markets themselves. We haven’t seen the markets that large, so we don’t see that as an issue.”
In 2017, the Board of Supervisors unanimously voted to eliminate a requirement for farmers markets to submit a full site plan with their applications for special-use permits. The county now accepts a less intensive sketch plan.
“[Previously], applicants would have to do a full engineered site plan, which is very costly; or they would apply for a site plan waiver, which would have to be processed with the special-use permit application,” Fritz said. “We turned that on its head in May and said that the applicant instead has to show instead a plan with any information that [county planners] request.”
Kathy Zentgraf, manager of the North Garden Farmers Market, said in an interview that she supports the proposed performance standards for farmers markets, particularly the ban on amplified sound.
“That makes sense; I see how that could turn it into a music event,” she said.
The Board of Supervisors approved a special-use permit for the North Garden Farmers Market in 2017. The market was first held in a field near Red Hill School Road.
North Garden Farmers Market organizers paid the county $481.92 in processing fees for the planning application. Justin Shimp, of Shimp Engineering, drew up a concept plan for the market pro bono.
This year, the market moved to Albemarle Cider Works, where it operates on from 3 to 7 p.m. Thursdays.
Kathy Zentgraf said she expects the North Garden market and its vendors will benefit from the more visible location this summer.
Zentgraf said small community markets give amateur gardeners a venue to barter surplus crops.
“People still get produce from their neighbors, their aunties and their grannies,” she said. “Markets like ours are one way that small, local economy can exist.”
“Not everyone can be a vendor at Charlottesville City Market because prices are so competitive. And not everyone can shop there,” Zentgraf added.
At last week’s meeting, commissioners discussed whether more could be done to ensure that only products from Albemarle and surrounding localities are sold at farmers markets in the county.
“If you go to the Charlottesville farmers market, you have vendors in the big white tents who come in from Prince William County, and it’s not fair competition,” Commissioner Karen Firehock said.
Deputy County Attorney John Blair said Albemarle’s current ordinance defines farmers market vendors as those “engaged in production and agriculture in Albemarle County.”