Meyers market returns despite permitting struggle
July 2, 2010
SOUTH LAKE TAHOE, Calif. – Buoyed by one man’s passion for community and healthy food, a farmers market returned to Meyers last month following a brief run in August 2009.
Alex Mellon, 37, has lived at the South Shore on and off for the past 13 years and said he envisioned the market as a community meeting space and a place where South Shore residents would have greater access to seasonal, organic and regionally-produced food.
The farmers market is expected to run from 2 to 7 p.m. every Sunday through Sept. 12, with the exception of July 4. The market is located next to Divided Sky.
Mellon, who has operated the farmers market out-of-pocket as a nonprofit organization through the Lyons Club, says he was surprised at how difficult it was to properly permit the events.
“I had a real uphill battle trying to create something for the community,” Mellon said.
In addition to the challenge of finding vendors and a location, the farmers market needed approvals from the California Department of Agriculture, El Dorado County and the Tahoe Regional Planning Agency, Mellon said.
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The TRPA was the most troublesome, Mellon said.
The Navy veteran says he received a “flat out no” from the planning agency when he first approached them about getting the special use permit needed to hold events throughout the summer. A TRPA temporary events permit limited Mellon to four farmers markets last summer.
A restriction on outdoor sales in the Meyers Community Plan was the reason staff gave for the planning agency’s initial denial of the special use permit to operate more than four events, Mellon said.
Only after a friend – and former TRPA employee – got Mellon in touch with a planner at the agency did staff become receptive to approving the special use permit, Mellon said.
“They found some sort of loophole,” Mellon said.
He said the seemingly arbitrary process was frustrating to produce an event designed as much as a community meeting place as an outdoor produce market.
“It illustrates that there are a lot of people in this community who want to do something positive, but they get stopped,” Mellon said.
The former employee’s help had nothing do with approval of the special use permit, other than that she suggested Mellon seek a two year special use permit rather than a permanent special use permit for the farmers market, said TRPA spokesman Jeff Cowen.
A permanent special use permit for the farmers market would have required a change to the Meyers Community Plan, a cumbersome process, especially for a local farmers market, Cowen said.
“We want everyone to understand her involvement was not the catalyst,” Cowen said.
“We handle everybody equitably and fairly,” Cowen added.
He said the TRPA is supportive of farmers markets, but, because of a lack of interest in farmers markets when the TRPA implemented the 1987 regional plan, TRPA code does not include any specific language relating to such events.
An update to the regional plan, as well as five year strategic plan being developed, will be more illustrative than the current legalese-laden documents and should help people better understand TRPA code requirements and allow easier approval of farmers markets, Cowen said.
Despite the struggle Mellon described as “exhausting,” he said he would go through it again and encouraged other people not to be intimidated by some of the regulatory hoops Lake Tahoe Basin residents may need to jump through to create new events and activities.
“It proves that even if there is a lot of hurdles you can still get it done.” Mellon said.