Almanac

News - June 5, 2013

Split council nixes ballot measure on Woodside farmers' market

by Dave Boyce

A small farmers' market now convenes on Sunday afternoons in a shaded section of the parking lot at Woodside Elementary School in downtown Woodside. The market opened for business in April and is popular, but it's also temporary, at least at that location.

Recent action by the Town Council that essentially removes another public parking lot as an alternative location, at least in the near future, may jeopardize the future of the market, some residents fear.

The natural location for the market may be a public parking lot, and the most obvious lot is the one shared by Town Hall and the Woodside Community Museum at Town Center. But that lot acquired restrictions in 1988 when voters approved Measure J to establish zoning that prohibits "commercial or professional uses" of that location.

That zoning could be amended by popular vote, but in a 4-3 decision on May 28, the council opted not to put that question on the ballot in November. The timing is not right, the majority said.

The school board is hosting the market temporarily, but "expressed their belief that the farmers' market should be located in the Town Center," Town Manager Kevin Bryant said at the council's March 12 meeting.

The council has shown strong support for this market as well as for the Wednesday afternoon market that began in October in Skylonda. Recent council discussion touched on the idea of launching the ballot initiative, but that's now off. Council members Dave Burow, Peter Mason, Tom Shanahan and Dave Tanner said no to an initiative; in dissent were Mayor Anne Kasten and members Deborah Gordon and Ron Romines.

Members of the public could undertake their own initiative.

The council's divided vote, uncommon on a matter with such wide community support, reflects larger issues that the council, town staff and a community task force considering the future of downtown are just getting around to tackling:

• One of the most valuable possessions on a weekend afternoon in downtown Woodside is a parking spot. Farmers' markets occupy parking spots, and not with vehicles.

• Woodside prizes its "rural character" and the idea of creating more reasons to drive downtown, with the possible consequence of creating more parking spaces — an idea the task force is at least considering — is anathema to many.

• Downtown commercial property owner Lee Ann Gilbert has threatened a lawsuit if a ballot measure to amend Measure J goes forward.

We want to use the town's money "wisely" and not be spending it on litigation, Councilman Burow said in an interview. Besides, he added, the best location for a farmers' market is along Woodside Road, not nestled in by the museum.

Mr. Mason agreed. "You're not going to know it's in there," he said.

During the discussion of the initiative, no one was in the room to defend the farmers' market, Mr. Mason noted. And the council had just spent two intense hours on a report from the downtown plan task force. That discussion revealed a bigger picture, a necessary context for considering ideas like a farmers' market, Mr. Mason said.

Mr. Romines took a darker view. The council's vote "is going to kill the farmers' market," he told the Almanac. "My fear is that the result of the decision not to put it on the ballot will be the farmers' market not being able to continue."

The school is a better location, he conceded, but the school board could always change its mind.

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