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Lockhart City Council passes new guidelines for farmers markets

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On Tuesday evening the Lockhart City Council passed formal guidelines for farmers markets on the town square, bringing the Lockhart Farmers Market one step closer to returning to downtown.

The council chambers were filled to overflow capacity, with the council listening to 14 market vendors and business owners testifying on the proposal for over an hour. After discussion and some modifications, the motion passed unanimously.

The new guidelines require the Farmers Market to have non-profit status, which they are currently in the process of getting, according to testimony from President Jenniffer Bauman. She did not provide a timetable during her testimony but did say it would be soon. Until then, the Farmers Market will continue to operate at the Justice Center.

The council also will require the market to be certified by the Texas Department of Agriculture. This “seal of approval” provides more stringent guidelines on the operational structure and type of products, something that became a point of contention with the Lockhart Farmers Market as it grew.

Once it returns, the market will only be allowed to operate on the east, west, and south sides of the Courthouse. Access on the north side will no longer be allowed due to traffic concerns along busy Highway 142.

To reduce the risk of pedestrian injury, the inner lanes of the square will be closed to auto traffic during the market operation. The extra space will allow vendors to spread out their booths to adhere to COVID protocols.

Prior to their moving on Dec. 6, 2020, the market provided one restroom. When they return, the city will require it to provide two restrooms on site, including one ADA compliant.

Parking downtown has always been an issue, particularly for well-attended weekend events. The guidelines require that the market makes an effort to have vendors park off the square, but the city has no legal authority to enforce it.

Council Member Kara McGregor pitched the idea that vendors could use placards inside their vehicles to identify vendor cars. But without the ability to police what car parks where, it will ultimately be up to the vendors and business owners to work it out.

The original guidelines presented at council restricted the market to every Saturday from 8 a.m. to noon, with vendors required to be off the square by 12:30 p.m. The majority of the comments given to council wanted to see the hours extended to later than noon citing too few profitable hours and people sleeping in.

During their discussion the council primarily focused on the operational hours for the market. Mayor Lew White said he liked the idea of dividing business hour to give equal opportunity to the vendors and the brick-and-mortar stores.

“I do like the idea of dividing the business hours and giving the businesses on the square a half day unfettered for business on the square,” White said. “That would give downtown business four hours on the square and the market four hours in the morning.”

After the discussion, the council compromised and amended the guidelines to end the market at 1 p.m.

Once the criteria in the guidelines are met, the city will issue a permit to the Farmers Market. If the guidelines are broken, the permit will be pulled, and the market will not be allowed on city property.

“The authority that we have is that once we issue the permit, if they don’t follow the rules, we can revoke the permit,” Mayor White said. “I’m not trying to be punitive about that, but that’s one of the good things about dealing with an entity and permitting the business.”

The guidelines are scheduled to be discussed at the Jan. 12 Caldwell County Commissioner’s Court, however it is unlikely the court would stray from what the city has already passed.

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