The Albemarle Board of Supervisors has approved a change to the county’s regulations that is intended to make the process of proposing farmers markets more efficient.
On Wednesday, Supervisors unanimously voted in favor of eliminating a requirement for farmers markets to submit a site plan in order to be approved.
Instead, the markets will now be required to submit a less intensive sketch plan and county staff can determine the level of detail necessary for an application.
A site plan is a technical document requiring information on details such as grading and building footprints. However, these factors are usually not a part of proposals for farmers markets, which often just involve vendors setting up tents in an existing field or parking lot.
Applicants previously had to ask the county for an exemption from certain requirements of the site plan, but that won’t be the case moving forward.
“Instead of the applicant asking to waive requirements, it would be the [county] staff advising the applicant [on] what they needed to show,” said Bill Fritz, Albemarle’s chief of special projects, in an interview prior to the board meeting.
“What we’re trying to do is we’re trying to match the level of detail needed to the requirements,” Fritz said. “So if you have a farmers market that … needed a new entrance, it needed parking, then you get the information to show all that. If they’re not doing that, then you don’t get the information.”
Irma Mahone was part of a committee that worked to get approval for the Red Hill Farmers Market in North Garden earlier this year.
Supervisors granted a special-use permit for the market in April, but Mahone said in an interview it took several steps to get the application planned and approved.
“Anything to simplify that process, I would support,” Mahone said.
The site plan was one part of the application process the committee needed some help navigating.
“We’re very thankful that we had some volunteers step up and help us with things like the site plan,” Mahone said. “We didn’t have a treasury, we didn’t have any funds to work with, so we really counted on people.”
The county waived site plan requirements and the project was able to move forward with a concept plan drawn up pro bono by Justin Shimp, of Shimp Engineering. The market opened this summer and operates on Thursdays from 3 p.m. to 7 p.m. near the intersection of U.S. 29 and Red Hill School Road.
The board also considered whether farmers markets should be allowed by-right in the county’s rural areas and village residential zoning districts.
This would mean that farmers markets could be developed in these areas without the approval of supervisors, which is already the case in the county’s commercial zoning districts.
The board approved regulations in 2010 that allowed for farmers’ markets in the county’s rural areas and village residential districts with a special-use permit, which requires board approval.
In July, the Albemarle Planning Commission advised the board to adopt the change in the site plan requirements, but not to make farmers markets a by-right use without further discussion of performance standards and supplemental regulations.
The commission said some aspects of farmers markets that should be considered include lighting, the size of associated structures, defining vendors and whether only products from Albemarle should be sold.
“To me, if you were going to have anything considered as by-right, it would be de minimis, it would be reversible, and not have any new structures,” said Supervisor Ann Mallek. “That’s a very easy delineation that could be made.”
Mallek said the farmers markets she thought were most common were people setting up pop-up tents and not large structures.
Supervisor Norman Dill took note of the long process for getting a farmers market approved and asked if there was a way to “fast track” it.
Fritz said two possibilities included creating performance standards for a by-right use that could then be similar to issuing a building permit when requirements are met. Another could be moving farmers markets through an expedited special-use permit process, which is what happened with the market for North Garden.
Dill also asked how produce could be regulated.
“Who’s going to go around and say, ‘Where did you get those cantaloupes from?” he asked.
“These are exactly the kinds of things that make coming up with those performance standards — kind of complicated,” Fritz said.
“The suggestion of a potential produce police is silly,” Neil Williamson, president of the Free Enterprise Forum, said during the public hearing. He also said he wasn’t sure how the county could legally enforce that the produce sold would originate in Albemarle.
Justin Shimp was the only other speaker during the public hearing and said he thinks it’s important for the board to consider that farming crosses county lines and farmers markets may want to be able to invite vendors from surrounding counties.
“I don’t think we’re going to have produce police,” said Supervisor Liz Palmer. “I think that’s a little over the top.”
The board did not come to any conclusions regarding what performance standards would look like for a potential by-right use for farmers markets, but they indicated they wanted to continue the discussion in the future.
“Staff will do some brainstorming and we’ll bring it back to you as a work session,” Fritz said.