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2,300 sign petition to let Farmers Market keep using Ocean Drive parking lot

Photo: The island’s Farmers Market.

The issue wasn’t on the agenda and no vote was taken, but near the end of a five-hour meeting last week, the Vero Beach City Council discussed banning vendors at the island’s Farmers Market from the Ocean Drive parking lot it has called home for the past 10 years.

Six days later, nearly 2,300 people had signed an online petition to “Save the Vero Beach Farmers Market Oceanside.”

The petition, started by the Oceanside Business Association, falsely claims “a decision was made” to remove the popular, Saturday morning market from the lot and that “it has been decided that the market will be allowed to operate in Humiston Park only.”

The Council made no such decision.

“Nobody is trying to kill the Farmers Market,” Vero Beach Mayor Harry Howle said Monday. “There was some discussion about not letting the vendors set up in the lot, keeping them along the sidewalks and even having some set up in the park, but that’s all.”

According to Howle, the discussion was sparked by the ongoing parking shortage in Central Beach, which is made more challenging when people pack the area to buy fresh vegetables and fruit, prepared food, craft items and other goods at the popular market.

“It does make sense,” Howle said of the idea to keep the parking lot open for cars instead of having it filled with vendor stands. “You want to fix a parking problem, and we have a parking lot filled with vendors. Setting up along the sidewalks and in the park shouldn’t be a problem.”

Apparently, though, it would be.

City Manager Jim O’Connor said he informed OBA President Georgia Irish of the council’s discussion and was told the OBA believes removing the market from the parking lot would limit space and reduce the number of vendors, especially during Vero Beach’s busy season, to the point where it couldn’t financially survive.

In fact, the OBA’s petition reads, “the market regularly operates with 60 vendors in season, and the park can only accommodate 36 booths along the sidewalk.”

At the meeting, however, council members Lange Sykes and Val Zudans both raised the possibility of moving the vendors out of the lot and relocating some tents to the park itself, not just the sidewalk in front of the park.

The market does not utilize the parking lot during the summer months, when business is slower and there are fewer vendors. O’Connor said the number of vendors doubles during the busy season.

“We need to do that all year,” Zudans said of putting the vendors along the sidewalks. “Walking down the sidewalk is a better experience than walking around in a circle in a parking lot.

“That should be permanent,” he added. “If they have more than they can fit in that space, then we’ll have to figure it out what to do.” He later suggested that, if there’s not enough room along the sidewalks, some vendors can set up in the park.

Council member Laura Moss said she wants to keep the Oceanside Farmers Market and plans to put beachside parking on the agenda for Tuesday’s meeting.

Irish could not be reached for comment. The petition, meanwhile, continued to collect signatures.

“The OBA understands that while a small handful of businesses have complained about the exacerbation of parking issues along Ocean Drive, the parking issues go much deeper,” the petition reads.

“These issues will not be magically resolved by minimizing or reducing the farmer’s market’s two-hour, weekly impact on parking.”

O’Connor dared not predict what the council will decide to do with the Farmers Market, but he said he would not be surprised to see the vendors set up in the parking lot when the busy season begins.

“Some of the same people who complained about the parking situation on the beach are now supporting the Farmers Market,” O’Connor said, “so I don’t know where it’s going to end up.”