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Tilth market faces change

This temporary sign at the Tilth Farmers Market is one of very few aspects of the Thompson Road operation that complies with Island County code. - Matt Johnson
This temporary sign at the Tilth Farmers Market is one of very few aspects of the Thompson Road operation that complies with Island County code.
— image credit: Matt Johnson

When and if South Whidbey Tilth reopens its farmers market next summer will have a whole lot to do with money and permits.

The market, which has operated on rural acreage on Thompson Road for the past three years after occupying a parking lot behind the Bayview Cash Store for almost two decades prior, is getting its last chance this fall and winter to meet a number of permitting requirements.

Technically in violation of building codes, health codes and zoning codes, the nonprofit organization has its hand out this month as it tries to raise $15,000 to do required work and pay for permits.

Open four hours every Saturday for 26 Saturdays in the spring, summer and fall, the market has been operating on acreage zoned rural for the past three years. To stay there, said past Tilth president Susan Prescott, the organization needs a conditional use permit, a signoff from the health department in a number of areas, and building modifications to market stands to satisfy building codes.

She said recently that Tilth has been fortunate to receive leeway from several Island County departments over the past few years.

"The county's been really lenient in giving us two years," Prescott said.

Phil Bakke, director of the county's planning department, said that leniency comes out of his desire to see Tilth keep its weekend market open. But, he said, the organization still needs a permit to operate what is essentially a business in a rural zone, and needs to do a better job of conforming with the county's sign and visual screening ordinances. He said he will continue to make "liberal use of the code" the market's behalf if Tilth meets the planning department halfway.

"I want to see them succeed," he said.

With a compliance deadline set for this Friday, Tilth has its work cut out for it. Perry McClellan, a Tilth member who has put in over 150 hours on the market's permitting issues, said Tilth can do what the county wants and will with little protest. He said erecting appropriate signage and meeting some other requirements are "minor" issues. Others, including the building department's insistence that the market no longer use temporary, vinyl shelters and install handicap-accessible bathrooms, are a bigger deal.

When Tilth moved its market in 1999, none of this was considered.

"We really didn't think any of that stuff applied to us," McClellan said.

On the list of things to be accomplished before getting a green light to reopen next spring, the market will likely be required to install an approved water system, permanent restrooms, meet building codes in some or all of the small booths at the market and possibly require vendors selling prepared foods at the market to prepare their goods in commercial kitchens.

While the organization will continue to have a "respectful difference of opinion" on what needs to be done at the market to comply with county codes, McClellan said Tilth will do as the county asks.

All of it can be done, he said, with enough money. With an 8-percent take of the total $69,000 in sales at the market this year, Tilth does not have much cash to work with. Prescott and McClellan said the organization needs donors to help them if the market is to stay open.

"This is a financial crisis for us at a time when we're already having difficulty," McClellan said.

Planner Bakke cannot help the organization with its funding problems. However, he said he is willing to work with Tilth on a timeline for its permitting needs. He implied that he might extend the deadline past this week if the organization shows that it is working to comply with county regulations.

Tilth has started fundraising by sending out a letter requesting donations to 150 of its members. Prescott said she hopes other Whidbey Island residents are willing to help as well.

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