Bethany farmers' market location sought

Bethany Beach Town Council members have been eager to champion the creation of a farmers’ market in the town, as proposed last month by Delaware Department of Agriculture officials. But at their council workshop on Monday, Feb. 12, the council members made it clear that the ball is in the court of those who will organize the market and are seeking a location on private property.

No single location has jumped to the head of a list of possibilities floated by Bethany Beach Landowners Association President John Himmelberg, and some of those locations are outside of Bethany Beach town limits. That left council members on Monday asking themselves exactly what their involvement with the effort to get the market going should be.

“If the market ends up outside the corporate limits of Bethany Beach, what should the council be talking about?” asked Council Member Lew Killmer, concerned the council would spend a lot of time trying to help find a location and get the market going, only to have it end up outside the town.

“If it is [inside Bethany], then what do we need to discuss?” continued Councilman Steve Wode, suggesting Himmelberg be allowed to run with that proverbial ball until a location was more firm.

Himmelberg had forwarded an early list of possible locations to the town in recent weeks, positing that any of a number of locations inside the town might work. The BBLA and the Bethany Women’s Civic Club have signed on as primary supports of the effort.

That list included the Natter property on Route 26, the town’s property at Route 26 and Route 1 (formerly the Neff and Christian Church parcels), the Bethany Beach Christian Church (Disciples of Christ) property on east side of Route 1, the South Coastal Library and property inside the Bethany West community.

In most of the cases, the proposed locations had been shot down by town officials. The Natter property was obtained under a grant that requires its use exclusively as a nature center and environmental area. The former Neff/Church parcels were rejected for their location on Route 1 and 26, owing to ingress and egress concerns, as well as the presence of a berm on the property’s Central Boulevard frontage.

The Church property on the east side of Route 26 was rejected as a possibility by church officials, according to Mayor Carol Olmstead. It is already home to a town park on land leased by the town and church officials have mentioned long-term plans to eventually re-develop the parcel for more extensive church use.

The South Coastal Library would reject the notion as well, according to Friends of the South Coastal Library (FOSCL) member Lois Lipsett, who attended Monday’s meeting in her capacity as a BBLA officer. The reason for that likely rejection was an existing lack of parking at the site, and even under expansion plans.

A Bethany West market would be on private land, and the potential there would be controlled by homeowners in the community, with no official request or response known at this time.

Council debates deal with in-town market

But Lipsett had another suggestion to add to the list: the as-yet unimproved median on Oceanview Parkway, inside the town limits on the ocean side. She said she thought it could provide both the non-asphalt surface Department of Agriculture officials ideally want and an accessible location within town limits that would suit beachgoers who might walk to get some fresh produce. A modest amount of parking could potentially be provided there for patrons of the market.

Vice-Mayor Tony McClenny liked the suggestion. “It’s the only location in town that, to me, is viable,” he said, noting that St. Ann’s Catholic Church had also been considered and rejected for its lack of available parking during the summer.

Other council members were cautious about the idea of locating the market on Oceanview Parkway, noting that many of the town’s concerns with the other mentioned properties inside its limits had been related to parking, traffic and other public safety issues. Olmstead said both the police department and public works had expressed deep concerns about the impact on the town.

Extending beyond that, Olmstead said Town Manager Cliff Graviet had told her he felt that if the market was inside town limits that the market should be run under town auspices, allowing it to control such issues as parking, traffic, etc. Those feelings, at least in respect to the public safety issues, were echoed by Public Works Supervisor Brett Warner on Monday.

The idea brought objections from Killmer and Wode, who emphasized that the market was intended to be managed by a representative of the Delaware farmers who sell through it, perhaps through a non-profit formed as an umbrella organization, and under the tenants the Department of Agriculture is developing for such markets state-wide. They were also reluctant to consider the additional responsibility for the town.

Resident Susanne Evans attended the meeting Monday to make her concerns about the idea known. She told council members that it seemed to her that the negatives of the market outweighed its positives, as much as citizens might enjoy having a local market for fresh produce.

Evans said she was particularly concerned with the rumor she’d heard that the Delaware National Guard campus at the north end of town was a potential location. As a resident of The Canal, she said she and other Canal residents were alarmed at the potential impact of market patrons parking illegally on their streets, trampling through their yards and causing traffic snarls.

Council members acknowledged that the idea had been floated but said it had been rejected by the farmers who potentially would sell through the market. Still, wherever it might be located in the end, Evans said she was also concerned that tight control be kept over what was sold: no baskets or market T-shirts, she said, also expressing concern that anything other than Delaware-grown produce (fruits and vegetables) — things such as fresh bread — might be sold.

Lipsett noted that she expected at least minimal opposition regardless of where the final location was, and recommended that the council be prepared to move ahead with that location over the objections of a few, since someone was likely to have a problem with every potential location.

Locations on private property considered

One suggested location that most of the council members were quick to get behind was the Powell property on Garfield Parkway, next to the existing bank parking lot. The availability of parking, room for the vendors and proximity to downtown were key in the recommendation.

While they agreed the location might be ideal, and keep the market inside town limits, it should be noted that the Powell family has not been contacted about the idea as of yet and certainly hasn’t volunteered the undeveloped parcel for that use.

Concern about finding a location soon simmered Monday, with the hope lingering of getting the market up and running for the summer of 2007. The BBLA and Civic Club will have their work cut out for them in finding a location and getting the vendors organized in that time. But council members — while expressing their support for having the market inside town limits — were loathe to get too involved in finding a location.

Council members said looking for a location on private property should remain the job of those supporters, while the town would examine and consider town-owned property and its implications on other town operations. Lipsett and Warner were putting their heads together on the issue as the meeting adjourned Monday. Lipsett said she planned to keep in touch with Olmstead as work to find a location continued.

Also on Feb. 12:

Council members reviewed the latest draft of their council protocol and procedures manual. With recommended changes from Town Solicitor Terence Jaywork now included, the draft was due to be considered for adoption by the council at a Feb. 16 council meeting.
However, Council Member Tracy Mulligan said he had some deeper issues he felt hadn’t been discussed during the drafting process and that the council should consider before finalizing the manual. But the other council members were eager to get the document in place, agreeing that Mulligan could raise those issues at their next workshop for possible additions or changes to the manual in the future.

Wode also said he had some concerns about the clear delineation of council procedures mandated by law and those that were simply the practice of the council and could be changed at their will. But most of the council members said they felt the distinction was clear enough, moving the document forward for a vote.

• Also ready to be adopted on Feb. 16 are a group of committee statements regarding their scopes of work and purposes. Wode said he would like reassurance that each of the documents had been approved by the related committee before he would vote for their adoption.