Thursday, December 13, 2012
Plano city council to vote definitively on farmers market ordinance next Tuesday
Organizer Kari Gates, however, still has major qualms with the text.
PLANO The fight over farmers markets in Plano has dragged on for months, but the finish line is now in sight.
On Tuesday night, the city council is scheduled to vote on a revised ordinance, the culmination of more than two years of work by the city's health department. While many compromises have been made between the city and potential market organizers, the permitting process outlined by the ordinance has one Plano resident calling the proposal unworkable.
Kari Gates, who hopes to open a market at Haggard Farms, said the 10 months she has spent attempting to get approval for a market have been frustrating due to what she feels is unnecessary regulation by the city health department.
"The majority of the other farmers markets in the state go off of a temporary food permit," she said. "They don't have a special farmers market permit; they just give a temporary food permit that is valid for the whole year."
Councilman Pat Miner, who presented the revised ordinance, said the temporary food permit is not viable for farmers markets since it restricts permit holders only eight times per year. However, Senate Bill 82, which was passed during the 2011 legislative session, allows for temporary food permits for farmers markets to be valid for up to one year, a move Gates said the city should consider.
Gates' other main concern is that the market would be permitted, rather than the individual vendors that are selling potentially hazardous items -- such as meats, cheeses, and eggs. This, she said, puts the market at a huge financial risk.
"This would mean that we would legally be the responsible party for any type of citation," Gates said. "They keep telling us that they would fine the vendor but not the market, but they have not put that in the ordinance. The market is just there to gather the people; we are not selling the food. The farmer is the food establishment, not the market."
At other markets, Gates said vendors that receive three citations in a year typically do not have their permits renewed by the city the following year. With the citations going to the markets, vendors would not face the possibility of losing access to customers, as well as face fines of up to $2,000 per incident, Gates said.
The city could also lose revenue by permitting the market instead of the individual vendors. Under a fee schedule approved by the council last month, market operators would pay $200 to $600 for their permit, depending on how many vendors they had. This would be the only permit required for the market.
Temporary food permits, which would not be required for market vendors, cost $75. With markets the size of the one planned by Gates typically having about 10 vendors who sell potentially hazardous items, the city could generate $750 in fees if the individual vendors were permitted, rather than the market as a whole.
The city's Environmental Health Manager, Geoffrey Heinicke, said the revised ordinance as presented by Miner, including the language about the permits, would be what was submitted to the city council for approval.
However, Mayor Phil Dyer said he felt the ordinance was still a work in progress and he hoped both sides would continue to communicate and work out their differences.
"We know that there are a couple of areas where we are a little bit apart," Dyer said. "We need to keep discussing it and see if we can tweak it, get a little movement and hopefully find that common middle ground.
"I think the council has made it very clear that they would very much like to have a farmers market at Fairview Farms, or elsewhere in Plano. I think the gap between the two sides was very large a few weeks ago, and I think it has gotten a lot smaller. If we keep working, with everybody remaining flexible and open to ideas, I think we will get this thing done."
One of those changes was the city allowing markets to sell items other than produce. This, Gates said, was necessary since it allows markets to be a one-stop shop for consumers. The portion of the ordinance which required permanent refrigerators and freezers to be installed at the market location -- a requirement that goes against state law -- was also removed.
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