City governments have the right and responsibility to make land use decisions. These matters are typically handled by a planning, zoning, or economic development department. While this oversight authority typically involves decisions such as what type of building can be built in a particular area of town or what type of business can occupy a specific building, the authority can also extend to temporary events that don’t have permanent structures, such as farmers’ markets.
While some cities will have established procedures for farmers’ markets to submit an application for a permit to operate, others are silent on the matter. Some smaller cities and towns that don’t have established rules for farmers’ markets in their zoning or planning processes may require an ordinance to be passed by the city council to authorize a farmers’ market. It can take some time for city staff to prepare language for the council to consider and for the item to be scheduled on an upcoming city council agenda, so plan to begin this process early.
You should begin your investigation of your city’s processes early in your farmers’ market planning process so you do not face unanticipated delays as your target opening day approaches. If you are not sure where to start, contact your local city councilmember’s office for assistance. Veteran farmers’ market operators strongly suggest you start this application process early, even if you don’t have all of the details of your farmers’ market worked out, so you will have a place in the queue for reviewing applications and can build a relationship with someone within the city who may be able to help advise and shepherd your application through the process.