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Athens City Council debates Athens Farmers’ Market location

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The Athens Farmers’ Market is looking for a more permanent space, representatives said Monday during an Athens City Council meeting.

The market is a nationally recognized program that attracts, according to recent customer counts, people from across the region to take advantage of the locally-produced items for sale, said Leslie Schaller, a member of the Athens Foundation task force who has been both a business and a customer at the market.

She also pointed out the benefits of the farmer’s market, including its promotion of local farmers and how accessible it is to locals regardless of income.

“It’s available and accessible for people of all income levels,” Schaller told the council. “It really provides access to fresh, nutritious foods that people can find for affordable prices. We’ve accepted food stamps…since 2007; we’ve had WIC and Senior Farmers’ Market Nutrition Program coupons redeemed at the market for many years as well. That supports the overall health and wealth of our community.”

Schaller also focused on how the market has helped local businesses grow and brought money into Athens. However, as the market keeps growing, the open-air environment is becoming constrictive.

The Athens Foundation and the Athens Farmers’ Market created a task force to help find a new location, and between the 14 possible spots, the most feasible option was found to be what is currently a dog park outside the Athens Community Center.

Council members cited several concerns from the potential new area, including the effects of paving and more traffic in an already congested part of the city.

“I’m a huge fan of the market…but as someone who daily sees accidents at that intersection of State and Charles and who lives essentially across the street from the proposed new location, I’m really worried about the logistics of an increase in cars accessing that location,” said Councilwoman Jennifer Cochran, D-At Large. “I’ve experienced a crash there myself; it’s the highest crash location in the city of Athens, so I’m frankly surprised to hear that our engineer says it can handle more traffic.”

Despite the potential drawbacks, council members were still receptive to the change.

“I think this is a vibrant part of our community, and I want to see it thrive,” Councilman Kent Butler, D-1st Ward, said. “I’m definitely open-minded to this process. In other communities, the farmers’ markets have a home base and more permanence, and those communities embrace it wholeheartedly. I’m optimistic from what I’m hearing now and I’m excited about moving forward.”

The council discussed several other issues as well. Other focuses of the night included potentially annexing land on Luhrig Road, the use of accrued vacation time for non-union employees before it expires at the beginning of October and land for a potential new bike path.

Another topic discussed was how the city would pay for firetrucks. Ohio University has agreed to give the city of Athens $50,000 a year until 2016 to help with the costs of the trucks, but the city needs to come up with the rest of the money.

The council decided to purchase two firetrucks — one ladder truck and one pumper truck — in 2011 and has been working to pay them off since. Councilman Jeffrey Risner, D-2nd Ward, said he was planning to propose an ordinance at the next City Council meeting to help pay off the trucks.

“We’re going to really start hammering this thing down,” Risner said. “We’re paying it off quicker. I believe since we have the funds available, we should take advantage of it.”

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