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The fate of the farmers' market

Vote split on new Main Street facility

PRINCETON — Where will Princeton's farmers' market be located? The question remains unanswered after Monday night's Princeton City Council meeting.

Several northend Princeton business owners addressed the council, asking for the mayor/commissioners to rethink the concept of building a structure at the corner of North Main Street and Elm Place to house the local farmers' market.

The council had a first reading of an ordinance at its last meeting to approve a 20-year lease agreement with the Princeton Farmer's Market Cooperative group for the use of the city's parking lot, where the city currently has its annual summer farmers' market. At that meeting, group spokesperson Greg Carrott proposed a new 90-foot long structure to run alongside Main Street. The structure included a roof and walk-throughs and would provide space for 14 stalls for vendors, plus restrooms. As time and money allowed, the plan was to build an addition to the pavilion which would include classroom space and a certified kitchen in order to provide educational instructions and services for the community. A total of about $900,000 was needed to do the entire project, Carrott said.

Prior to the second reading of the ordinance on Monday, some northend Princeton business owners spoke during the public comment portion of the meeting — Laura Massey of Beetz Me; Mary VanKeulen of Sophisticuts; Terri Zearing of Flour House Bakery; and Ann Crosby of Annies Little Pots. Others also opposed to the idea who spoke were Princeton resident Lou Maxwell and Sophisticuts' employee Alissa Anderson.

Basically, all those who spoke said they were not opposed to Princeton's farmers' market at all, but they were against the location of the farmers' market in the city parking lot, since the structure would take away what they believed to be much needed parking spaces for staff and customers in the northend area. Another concern was safety, if employees had to park a distance from their place of employment and return to their vehicles in the dark.

Commissioner Joel Quiram who has been a proponent of refurbishing Darius Miller Park — where the farmers' market originally was held, said the shelter at the park was dilapidated, and the fountain did not work. He wondered about taking the fountain out and constructing a shelter for the farmers' market in its place.

Commissioner Bob Warren said he believed the land on which Darius Miller Park sits was given to the city to use as a park, and some investigation would need to be conducted as to whether that use would be allowed.

Mayor Keith Cain said he felt the northend business owners should feel fortunate, since the city plows their snow and offers free parking to customers. He said it was the business owners' responsibility to arrange for parking for their staffs and spoke of the lot on Vernon Street behind the Main Street barber shop which is under-utilized.

"You've got it pretty good," he said, reminding business owners he and his wife also own a business in the northend business district.

Cain also said meetings had been previously held about the parking lot, and with the exception of Crosby, business owners seldom attended. Crosby later told the BCR the original concept of the parking lot was the only thing discussed — not the structure, which would eliminate parking spaces for employees/staff.

A motion failed to table the ordinance until the next meeting, so more information could be gathered about whether Darius Miller Park could be used for a permanent home for the farmers' market. Cain, Warren and Commission Ray Swanson voted no to tabling the ordinance. Quiram and Commissioner Ray Mabry voted yes.

The vote then ensued to either pass the ordinance to allow the Princeton Farmer's Market Cooperative to build the structure in the parking lot or to not allow the structure to be built. A super majority vote was required because according to the Illinois Municipal Code, the sale or lease of real estate requires three-fourths of the authorities to approve it, which means four of five commissioners/mayor needed to vote yes for it to pass.

The ordinance failed 3-2 with Cain, Warren and Swanson voting to go ahead with the structure, and Quiram and Mabry voting against it.

Speaking in favor of the structure were Evan Hultine and also Ellen Zehr, a 23-year vendor of the farmers' market from Coneflower Farms in Tiskilwa.

So what now?

PRINCETON — With the new farmers' market structure voted down on Monday night by the Princeton City Council, the looming question is what will happen to the farmers' market.

Princeton City Manager Jeff Clawson said Tuesday afternoon his assumption is the farmers' market will either temporarily stay in the parking lot on the corner of Elm Place and North Main Street until a permanent home can be found, or it will return to its former home in Darius Miller Park. Clawson said he was confident the Princeton City Council would work with the Princeton Farmers Market Cooperative to help them find a mutually agreeable location.

Clawson said there was previous talk of locating the farmers' market at the intersection of Long Street and the west corner of the parking lot intersection by the entrance to the depot. The city has been working to improve that parking lot, and Clawson said a structure there could surely be doable for the city.

Clawson also said the city is attempting to pull up the deed to Darius Miller Park to study the stipulations of what was stated when the land was donated to the city.

"We will have to figure out what we can legally put there and what we can't," he said.

Clawson said he spoke with Greg Carrott who is working with the Princeton Farmers Market Cooperative, and the group is planning a meeting this week where they will be discussing their options.

BCR Senior Staff Writer Donna Barker contributed to this story.

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