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Since 2011, the Petworth Community Market in Washington, D.C. has been a neighborhood staple, offering fresh, locally sourced food and live music. But by this time next year the market might look a lot different. It might not even exist.
Due to rising parking meter fees levied by the District Department of Transportation, the market may not be sustainable past the 2018 season. According to Lauren Anderson, a Petworth Community Market board member, the parking fees totaled $990.64 in 2016 and skyrocketed to $8,841.69 in 2017.
At the beginning of each season, market organizers pay the public space permit fee and other operation costs. Then the market’s many vendors, which occupy the parking spaces with their stands, must pay the Petworth Community Market for the use of the spaces.
Anderson says expenditures now outweigh income and the market must either retire or undergo major changes to remain profitable. “That might mean moving to a different space that would be further away from other local businesses and less central to the customers,” Anderson says. It could also mean raising vendor fees that could push vendors out or force them to significantly up what they charge customers for products.
“We have some really hard questions to answer,” Anderson continues. “Whatever solution we come to won’t be as good as staying in the space that we’re in and continuing to operate the market that we have in the past.”
Parking meter fees have climbed for two main reasons. First, the number of metered parking spaces increased from seven to 18. Second, the D.C. Council’s “Fiscal Year 2016 Budget Support Clarification Temporary Amendment Act of 2016” resulted in meter rates at the market location going up from $0.75 per hour to $2.30 per hour, according to DDOT spokesperson Terry Owens.
Councilmember Brandon Todd says he visits the market. “It brings neighbors together,” he says. “It brings fresh fruit and produce. It keeps camaraderie from people all across our ward and our city.” He adds that the increased parking fees jeopardize “the viability and the sustainability of the farmers market.”
In order to save the Petworth Community Market, Todd has co-introduced legislation with Counclimembers Mary Cheh, Vince Gray, Jack Evans, Brianne Nadeau, and Robert C. White Jr.
The “Farmer’s Market Meter Fee Cap Amendment Act of 2017” introduced in September would put a daily maximum of $50 on parking meter fees for all farmers markets across the city. For the 29-week season of the Petworth Community Market, that would make the yearly price total $1,450.
At Tuesday’s Committee on Transportation & the Environment’s public oversight hearing, Petworth Community Market board chair Meaghan Murphy stated that she fully supports the legislation that would bring down the fees, ensuring the market could continue to serve D.C. residents.
The market averages more than 600 visitors on any given week according to Murphy, sometimes reaching more than 1,000. To make it through the 2017 season, they had to undertake fundraising efforts with help from local businesses and residents.
“But we are still facing some huge setbacks,” Murphy said yesterday in her testimony. “We are already having to put in place some preliminary measures to recover costs from last year and to sustain this year and next year’s uncertainty.”
At the hearing, Cheh said that there is currently no date set for the Councilmembers to deliberate further. “I don’t want to raise any expectations about this coming season,” she says.
The Petworth Community Market occurs every Saturday from 9 a.m. to 1 p.m. from May through November. It’s located in the triangle that’s formed by George Avenue NW, Upshur Street NW, and 9th Street NW.