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Wednesday, 07 May 2014 13:47

Coffee shop owner launches farmers market sans permit

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fr maggiemarketJustin Phillips narrowly avoided a stand-off with Maggie Valley town hall last week, but rest assured, he was ready to go the distance if need be.

Phillips launched a new farmers market last week in a large grassy field beside his coffee shop, Organic Beans Coffee Co., along the main commercial drag of Maggie Valley.

He did so without a required special-use permit from the town, however. And that left Town Manager Nathan Clark in a quandary.

Phillips put Clark on notice earlier in the week that he planned to go forward with the farmers’ market last Friday and Saturday — permit or no permit. Phillips even advertised the opening day in local newspapers.

Shortly after the first tents and folding tables went up in the field beside Phillips’s coffee shop last Friday morning, Clark pulled into the parking lot and moseyed up to Phillips.

Phillips was prepared to make a scene if Clark shut him down for not having the permit.

“I just don’t back down very easily,” Phillips said.

Phillips leveled heated words toward Clark, accusing the town of punitive and selective red tape and bureaucracy against certain business people.

For starters, Phillips philosophically detests the idea of a special permit in the first place.

“You are within your rights to use your property for any business-related activity,” Phillips said, relying on his own interpretation of the town’s zoning rules.

Technically, however, non-standard commercial endeavors — a flea market, swap shop, farmer’s market, artists fair, and so on — need a special-use permit to set up shop on a recurring basis. The town zoning board must consider each request in context, namely whether it would infringe on neighbors and whether it is in keeping with the community.

Without a permit, these outdoor sales are allowed only two days a month. Any more than that, and Phillips would need a permit — technically putting him in violation should he reopen the following Friday and Saturday without one.

Phillips said he had every intention of doing so, and threatened to take out radio ads and put up billboards lambasting the town for squashing progress if they stood in his way. And thus it seemed a showdown the next weekend was imminent.

But come Monday, Clark announced that Phillips will be allowed to keep the farmers market going, even without a permit, until the zoning board has a chance to formally consider a special use request later this month.

And here’s why. Phillips had in fact applied for a permit in early April. But Clark has been stretched thin in recent months serving dual roles as both the town manager and town planner. And he failed to set the wheels in motion for Phillips’ special-use permit to come before the zoning board in a more timely fashion.

“Unfortunately, as a product of doing the job of both town manager and town planner, I lost track of the application in my list of things to do,” Clark said.

Clark said since he was at fault for not getting the permit application on the zoning board’s agenda sooner, it wouldn’t be fair to make Phillips wait.

“It was not his problem. He turned in his stuff well in advance,” Clark said.

Phillips initially accused the town of intentionally stymieing his application process. But Clark said that is not the case.

“It is quite the opposite. We like anyone who brings new and exciting ideas to make our Maggie Valley community better,” Clark said. “By no means is the town trying to stall him. This is a fantastic use.”

On opening day of its first season, the farmers market was shy of any actual farmers selling produce. There were a few crafters selling things like candles, a booth promoting the Haywood County Libertarian Party and a massage therapist giving chair massages. The only farm fare was a load of wholesale produce that was trucked in by Phillips.

“It is a humble start,” admitted Adam Capparelli, who Phillips brought on as the market manager.

Growers have been signed up, however, and will hopefully anchor the market as the season progresses. But early May in the mountains isn’t exactly a cornucopia of local produce, given the later growing season here.

Still, even when crops start to come in, crafters and artists will likely comprise a good share of the Friday and Saturday market. Phillips envisions it as more than a farmers market, but a place for the local community to engage and gather, while filling a niche for tourists looking for something to do.

“The idea is to create not just a place for consumers to come buy things, but for the community to come together and hang out. I perceive it to be a positive thing for the town,” Capparelli said.

One thing the town zoning board will likely want to know: is this really a farmers market or a weekly flea market for people to sell things?

“That’s one reason for the special use permit,” Clark said. “What is a good fit and what is not a good fit? There is an interesting line between what a farmers market is and what a permanent yard sale is.”

Despite the rocky start that could be chalked up to miscommunication, it seems the town and Phillips are on the same page in that regard.

Phillips said his own rules for the market are pretty strict. Vendors are limited to artists, hand-made items, produce and value-added farm products. He doesn’t allow people to sell used stuff, and he doesn’t want mass produced knick-knacks being marketed for resale. 

“If you do what you really like, you are going to be OK,” Phillips said.

The special-use permit request is on the agenda for the town zoning board on May 22.

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