New meter fees put in place by DC Department of Transportation (DDOT) this year are threatening the longevity of the Petworth Community Farmers Market, according to members of the Market's board. With an 800% increase in fees, they fear they'll have to close for good in two years. New legislation from Councilmember Brandon Todd is designed to help.
The Farmers Market sets up each Saturday during Spring through late Fall on 9th Street NW. The west side of 9th Street between Upshur and Taylor has parking meters, and since the Market closes the short street for a good portion of the day, they have to cover the cost of each parking meter on the street for every hour the Market is open.
The meters used to cost 75 cents an hour... now, they're $2.29 an hour. Last year there were 7 meters, and this year there are 18. That means the public space permit pricing cost that the Market had to pay went from $990.64 in 2016 to a whopping $17,683.38 for 2017.
"This is threatening our core programs, including our SNAP/WIC Matching Program, which helps keeps healthy, fresh, local foods accessible to low-income neighbors," said Market Board Chair Lauren Anderson. "We have already had to scale back some of our core services, such as local music at the market. Without a solution, we project that our Market will not be sustainable past 2019."
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 $8841.69. Good, but still not good enough, as even that sapped their available funds to the point that the Market would have to shut down after the 2019 season.
"The increased cost for parking meter fees was unexpected and not something the Market had planned for," said John Brown, the Market's Treasurer. "This cost is not sustainable given the Market's current sources of revenue. If we cannot find a way to reduce the meter fees then it is a real possibility that the market will not be around in two years."
The Board reached out to DDOT to help find possible solutions that could help keep the Market alive. DDOT suggested the cost could be reduced by decreasing the number of market days or the number of vendors so they don't use as many parking spots, but the Market felt these compromises would negatively impact the community. So they turned to Ward 4 Councilmember Brandon Todd to see if there was a legislative solution that would help Farmers Markets across the city.
Todd's legislative director, Keiko Yoshino, discovered that the increases in fees are a district-wide issue for farmers' markets. According to Ms. 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 titled the Farmer’s Market Meter Fee Cap Amendment Act of 2017, designed to cap parking fees at $50/day for Farmers Markets.
"Petworth Market officials approached me and told me how these massive fee increases were threatening the viability of the Market’s future operations," Councilmember Todd said. "I knew that I had to take action on their behalf and on behalf of farmer’s markets across the District."
"Farmers markets are fiscally lean operations, and every penny counts when they are working to bring these valuable goods to our community," Councilmember Todd said. "By reducing the cost of parking to a reasonable level, Petworth Market and others like it will be able to spend their limited resources on providing the best experience possible for residents. Additionally, it is likely that the Market would have been forced to pass much of the higher parking costs on to consumers, so this would keep prices lower for those who patronize the markets."
As to why Farmers Markets around DC should get the benefit of reduced fees but not other public events, Todd said, "Farmer’s markets provide unique public goods that other events do not, which is why they are exempt from normal public space permit fees. They provide healthful fresh produce right in the heart of our community, enhancing access to nutritious fruits and vegetables while strengthening bonds between neighbors. With so many young families in Petworth, this helps teach healthy eating habits and has lasting health benefits. The locally-sourced produce supports nearby farms, strengthening our local identity and keeping money inside the region. Local food also has an environmental benefit, with a significantly lower carbon footprint than food transported from thousands of miles away. For all these reasons and more, I think farmers markets are well worth our support."
In an effort to close their gap in funds and continue to run the Market, including providing their SNAP/WIC Matching Program, the Market is hosting a fundraiser at the Upshur Street Art & Craft Fair later in December in Petworth.
"We encourage the neighborhood to voice its support for the legislation CM Todd has introduced," Mr. Brown said. You can find contact information for councilmembers on the DC Council website.