DDOT exempts Farmers Markets from paying parking meter fees

Petworth Community Farmers Market.

After a fair amount of publicity on the story and new proposed legislation by the DC Council, DC's Department of Transportation has decided it's time to stop charging Farmers' Markets exorbitant parking meter fees. This is a big win for the Petworth Community Farmers' Market, which thought it would be forced to close after this year.

The city had always charged markets to close a street where there were meters, both in permit fees and a cost for the meters, but last year the cost went up astronomically. The parking meter fee costs increased as a by-product of a change DDOT made citywide, raising parking meter rates from 75 cents in low demand areas to a flat $2.30 per hour across the city.

For the Petworth Community Farmers Market, which first raised the issue last year, the cost went up 800%, for a total bill close to $9,000. The market was responsible for covering the cost of every meter on 9th Street NW for a few hours on Saturdays during their season. The majority of the parking spaces are empty on Saturdays when the market isn't open, yet the market was forced to cover the full meter fee for each parking spot during open hours.

The Market was notified in April 2017 that DDOT's public space permit pricing was increasing, and after some discussions, DDOT agreed to waive a permit fee of $880, but not the meter fee. After some back and forth with DDOT, they were able to lower the amount to $8,841.69. That amount was still too high for the longevity of the market's available funds, and the Market feared it would have to shut down after the 2019 season.

Councilmember Brandon Todd was the first member of the Council to get involved in the issue when the Petworth Market Board raised the issue with him. 

According to Todd's legislative director, Keiko Yoshino, data from DDOT showed that fees paid by DC farmers' markets totaled $38,051 in 2015, almost tripled in 2016 to $98,822, and went up by a factor of 5 in 2017 to $157,839. Using this information, Todd's office drafted legislation in September 2017 titled the Farmer’s Market Meter Fee Cap Amendment Act of 2017, designed to cap parking fees at $50/day for Farmers Markets.

Todd wrote about the issue in his February Councilmember's Corner article, "Petworth Community Market needs your support."

Recently, after reviewing Todd’s legislation, DDOT and the City Administrator’s office have decided to exempt all Farmers Markets across the city from paying any parking meter fees (as long as they participate in nutrition programs). This offers even more relief than the legislation's proposed $50 per day cap:

The emergency rulemaking amends, and the proposed rulemaking would amend, Title 18 to exempt Farmers’ Markets participating in both the Farmers’ Market Nutrition Program (FMNP) and the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP) from any parking meter fees incurred as a result of temporary parking restrictions caused by their occupancy of public space. (From DDOTs Rulemaking document.)

While DDOT did not respond when contacted by Petworth News, we learned from another source that DDOT determined that the cost of administering the daily $50 cap was not worth levying the fee, and that an across-the-board exemption was simpler and justified given the community benefits that the markets bring.

Ward 4 Councilmember Brandon Todd announcing the new DDOT policy at the Petworth Farmers' Market fundraiser on April 23, 2018.

Since the change to remove the fees in their entirety is being done through an administrative policy change, rather than legislation, the rule took affect on Thursday, April 26th when DDOT officially amended the policy (pdf). 

"This is a particularly big win for our homegrown and implemented community market," said Meaghan Murphy, chair of the Market's board of directors. "The outpouring of support and letters from vendors, area businesses and community members was fantastic. We are more excited than ever to launch and without the fees. We are committed to offer the community matching program for SNAP and WIC benefits again, and offer the important events we know the community has come to depend on. The regulation decision on the fees is huge for us to be able to plan with more certainty for our future."

According to Councilmember Todd, he will be updating his legislation to codify this change, removing the $50 per day cap and changing it to no assessed fees.

"The Petworth Market adds so much to our neighborhood," said Councilmember Todd. "When I heard their future operations were being put at risk by exorbitant parking meter fees, I knew I had to step in and take action. First, I introduced legislation that capped farmers markets’ meter fees at $50 per day. As conversations with the District Department of Transportation moved forward, I was delighted to achieve a full exemption from all parking meter fees for farmers markets District-wide. This is a win for Petworth and a win for market communities all across the District of Columbia. With these parking meter savings, the Market will be able to continue serving its vital community role for years to come."

The Petworth Community Farmers Market opens on 9th and Upshur Streets NW on Saturday, May 5th, and runs until November 17th.

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