University City

City considers annual permits for markets

Hoping to make fresh fruits and vegetables more widely available in neighborhoods where they are scarce, the city is considering zoning changes that would grant annual permits, rather than seasonal ones, for outdoor produce stands.

Besides allowing year-round sales for the growing number of produce stands, including many tiny operations, the proposed changes would also permit produce stands to operate in a greater variety of locations.

Markets would be permitted with some restrictions in all zoning districts, including residential areas and office and institutional zones.

Yet the proposed move to year-round permits would not be available to the Newell Farmers Market, now in its fourth year in northeast Charlotte. It sells produce from local and regional farms and from Mecklenburg County gardeners.

That market, at 1704 Rocky River Road, would still operate seasonally and close in the fall. It falls under different zoning rules than most outdoor markets because it operates in a fixed, permanent open-air shelter, rather than the mobile farm stands covered by the proposed ordinance.

"I'm really, really, really disappointed," said Nancy Newton, who operates the Newell market with her family. "It's not going to help our market."

The city moved last year to change the zoning rules for outdoor produce stands, saying fresh produce could improve the quality of life locally and contribute to the community's health.

Six people attended a meeting with Charlotte's Planning Department Oct. 4 to review changes the city is considering and to offer input.

The city will use the comments to gauge the potential effects of the proposed changes.

"Once we finish reviewing the comments, we will see if we can adjust the language and address any concerns," said Solomon Fortune, Planning Department associate planner.

Changes will require a vote by the city council.

A representative of the West End Neighborhood Association said he opposes rules that would allow mobile produce operations on trucks or trailers, especially in the 18 neighborhoods along Beatties Ford Road that his organization represents.

"We need more grocery stores that carry quality products," said Aaron Mckeithan, the association's chairman. "You're not only giving people quality products, you're also providing an economic impact because you're providing jobs."

An annual permit would be a bonus for the Black Women's Health Network's three produce markets, said Denise Hairston, program director for the network, who also attended the meeting.

The network's Saturday markets accept federal EBT benefits, formerly known as food stamps, and operate at churches in Charlotte's so-called "food deserts."

A study from UNC Charlotte found last year that fresh dairy, meats and produce are difficult to find in about 60 Charlotte neighborhoods. The study calls those neighborhoods "food deserts" because they don't have full-service stores.

The network's markets were open for 12 weeks this year beginning in August and are scheduled to open for twice as many weeks beginning in April next year.

"If you're set up on a church lot or school lot, you don't have as many restrictions," Hairston said. "You don't have the restrictions of being so far from the street. That's good for us."