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Dueling Farmers Market Surveys

Latest survey reveals widespread support for a farmers market at Belle View Shopping Center.

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Fairfax County Zoning Ordinance: Article 8-810:

“Temporary farmers’ markets shall be deemed temporary retail establishments and shall be allowed in all districts where retail sales establishments are permitted uses, notwithstanding the use limitations concerning outdoor storage and display of goods set forth in the district regulations.” Seven conditions are listed in this zoning regulation that must be met for the temporary use permit to be approved. If approved it would require the applicant to renew the permit annually.

The future of the scope, character, number of markets and location of the Mount Vernon Farmers Market continues to be an intensely debated local issue. No less than five surveys have been conducted about various aspects of the future of the farmers market in Mount Vernon.

The latest survey by the Consumer Affairs Committee of the Mount Vernon Council to determine interest in a second farmers market reveals widespread support for a second one at the Belle View Shopping Center located at the corner of Fort Hunt road and Belleview Boulevard: 90.6 percent or 685 of the 756 respondents support the Belle View site; 9.4 percent or 71 respondents do not.

This was an unprecedented fifth documented survey to determine the support or lack thereof for: extending the season for the Sherwood Hall Library Farmers Market site, moving the existing farmers market to an alternative site or, establishing a second Mount Vernon-area farmers market. However, despite the number and type of surveys, the debate about farmers markets may not have ended. Not everyone is ready to agree to a second farmers market at Belle View.

The debate over the future of the Mount Vernon Farmers Market began in June 2012 when the issue of whether or not to have a year-round market at the present Sherwood Hall library parking lot site was considered. Once it was determined by the Consumer Affairs Committee of the Mount Vernon Council that the farmers didn’t support a year-round market, the issue then morphed into whether or not the present farmers market season should be extended. Mount Vernon District Supervisor Gerry Hyland, who publicly voiced his support for the Sherwood Hall library parking lot site, entered the debate by asking the Environment and Recreation Committee of the Mount Vernon Council to evaluate whether the farmers market season should be extended.

That committee concluded, based on a limited survey, that the season should be extended for three weeks on a pilot/temporary basis. But, that didn’t end the farmers market debate.

The next issue was whether or not the farmers market should be moved from the Sherwood Hall library parking lot to a more favorable location. The reason was some participants and observers believed the crowded parking lot was a growing safety factor. Also, the site lacked the space to add more farmers to sell their produce. In light of the concerns, a survey was conducted by the council’s Consumer Affairs Committee to determine if there was support to move the farmers market to an alternative site.

This survey revealed 67 percent of 264 respondents supported moving to a “more friendly parking location.” Using this latest survey, the MVCCA recommended that the farmers market should be moved from the Sherwood Hall library parking lot to the Mount Vernon Recreation Center’s upper deck parking lot. However, police traffic safety concerns, Park Authority staff resistance due to their contention that they did not have sufficient staff to manage a second farmers market, and concern by Park Authority staff about setting up a second farmers market in close proximity to the existing one, discouraged that option from further consideration.

Survey Timeline

  • June 2012. Informal Survey by the MVCCA Consumer Affairs Committee regarding support for a year-round farmers market. No support from the existing farmers participating.

  • January 2013. MVCCA Environment and Recreation Committee conducted a limited survey at the request of Mount Vernon District Supervisor Gerry Hyland for its opinion about extending the farmers market season at the Sherwood Library parking lot. This survey supported a three-week extension which has been approved on a temporary pilot basis.

  • February 2013. Consumer Affairs Committee Survey, 264 respondents. Sixty-seven percent supported relocating the market. The MVCCA passed a resolution which recommended moving the present farmers market to the upper deck parking area of the Mount Vernon Recreation Center. However, the Fairfax County Police expressed concerns that the location on Bellevue Boukevard posed a traffic hazard. Other issues also promised to serve as potential barriers to relocating the farmers market to the recreation center.

  • April 2013. Hyland conducts his own two separate surveys to determine support for keeping or relocating the present farmers market site. The overwhelming majority of the approximately 200 respondents who were already attending the Sherwood Library parking lot farmers market supported keeping it at the present site.

  • June 2013. Consumer Affairs Committee conducts a regional survey to determine support for a second farmers market at the Belle View Shopping Center; 685 respondents or 90.6 percent of those participating support locating a second farmers market at the Belle View Shopping Center. Sixty communities participated in the survey.

In the meantime, the debate associated with moving the existing farmers market to an alternative location or establishing a second farmers market at an alternative location prompted Hyland to conduct his own surveys of residents. He directed the survey to residents who were already using the Sherwood Hall Library site. His on-site surveys of approximately 200-plus respondents revealed strong support for maintaining the present farmers market at the library parking lot site.

But, at this point in the debate despite Hyland’s survey results, the MVCCA Consumer Affairs Committee decided to conduct a regional survey that reached out to 60 communities to determine if there was support for establishing a second market at the Belle View Shopping Center. This latest survey, conducted in June, may have revealed a nascent desire by a broad cross-section of the community to establish a second farmers market at the Belle View Shopping Center. Respondents both near and far from the Belle View Shopping Center supported a second farmers market at Belle View. Consumer Affairs Committee chair Queenie Cox concluded that if the merchants and owner of the Belle View Shopping Center are interested in setting up a farmers market at the Belle View shopping center parking lot, the community will support it. She also consulted with Earl Flanagan, Mount Vernon planning commissioner, to determine what, if any, zoning issues would be a problem if the Belle View merchants wanted to pursue a farmers market on their parking lot. It was his opinion that if the Belle View merchants wanted to manage a farmers market at their shopping center “it would be allowed to have a Temporary Farmers Market by-right.”

Flanagan said: “All they need to do is file a request for a Temporary Use Permit.” He went on to suggest that if Belle View Shopping Center management wished to pursue a farmers market that it would be helpful if they consult with the county Park Authority staff for a list of the 85 approved vendors and select from its list of farmers those not on the list approved for the Sherwood Hall library parking lot farmers market.

Hyland responded to the results of the latest Consumer Affairs Committee: “I am a strong supporter of farmers markets and our local farms. The survey clearly expressed a desire to have a second farmers market at the Belle View Shopping Center. While the Park Authority’s policy does not permit their operation of a market within 10 miles of an existing market, a private organization can start one at Belle View similar to what is being done at the Workhouse Arts Center in Lorton, Springfield Mall, Oakton, and Reston.”

Kevin Green, president of the Belle View Merchants Association, was on vacation and unavailable for comment.

For information on the results of the Consumer Affairs Committee survey to determine the community interest in a Farmers Market at Belle View Shopping Center access the online website for the Mount Vernon Council of Citizens Associations at: www@mvcca.org.