The downtown Lawrence Farmers Market is looking to expand outside of downtown for the first time.
But market organizers may not want to bet the farm on the idea just yet. That's because city regulations may become peskier than a spring weed.
Mercedes Taylor-Puckett, market coordinator, said Thursday that the Farmers Market organization is working on plans to open a Wednesday afternoon market in the parking lot of the Community Mercantile at Ninth and Iowa streets.
"We were looking for a location that has some good visibility to remind people of the market and to attract some people who have never been before," Taylor-Puckett said. "But I didn't realize it was going to be such a massive undertaking from a regulation standpoint, and that is becoming a problem."
Planning staff members said they're leaning against approving the request because it could cause parking problems. To reserve the 20 parking spaces to make way for the market requires city approval.
Sandra Day - the city planner overseeing the review - said the city wants to work with the organizers, but said the parking lot for the Community Mercantile already is undersized. She said the previous city code required 86 parking spaces for the Community Mercantile and the adjacent liquor store. The Community Mercantile in 2000 received a variance from the city code to have only 82 spaces. Reducing that number by another 20 for even one day a week could be problematic from parking and safety standpoints, Day said.
She's urging organizers to consider moving the Farmers Market to a different part of the shopping center, where parking problems may not occur. But Taylor-Puckett said that would require dealing with a different property owner, and that could put the project in jeopardy.
Taylor-Puckett said she hopes a plan can be worked out with city officials because the expansion would provide a boost to the Farmers Market operations.
Jeanie Wells, general manager of The Merc, said she was excited about the project because it fit in well with the mission of the cooperative, which buys many of its products from local producers.
"We think it is great to give the consumers a chance to meet the farmers and producers," Wells said.
The Wednesday market - which would run from 4 p.m. to 6 p.m. - would not replace the Farmers Market's Tuesday, Thursday or Saturday markets in downtown Lawrence. The market opens its season April 14.
The new Development Code approved by the city in July removed the requirement that site plans must go before city commissioners. Instead, they are to be ruled on by the city's Planning Department.
But the code does allow for the Planning Department's decision to be appealed to the City Commission. Taylor-Puckett said the Farmers Market perhaps would take the issue to the City Commission, but would rather not.
The issue has drawn the attention of people following the City Commission campaign, in part because two candidates have connections to the Community Mercantile, and outgoing Commissioner Mike Rundle is an employee of the grocery store. Commissioner Boog Highberger, who is seeking re-election, is a former mercantile board member, and the husband of candidate Carey Maynard-Moody is on the board of directors for the nonprofit mercantile.
But some of the talk surrounding the issue has been incorrect. The fact that the site plan is being reviewed administratively instead of by the City Commission is standard operating practice under the new code, Day said.
Concerns that the Community Mercantile in 2001, when it moved from its Ninth and Mississippi Street location, never had a site plan approved by the City Commission also were unfounded. According to City Commission minutes, commissioners in January 2001 approved the site plan on a 4-0 vote and overrode a recommendation from the planning staff and from the Kansas Department of Transportation to close one of the store's access points off of Iowa Street because it was too close to the intersection.
Commissioners overrode the recommendation after the mercantile leaders argued to keep the access point. Rundle - who also was on the City Commission at the time - abstained from the vote because of his employment at the store.