LAFAYETTE -- Dwindling crowds, a loss of vendors and strict rules against signs have forced the closure of Lafayette's new year-round farmers' market, despite a promising start.
Operator Urban Village closed the Lafayette Farmers' Market located in the south BART parking lot Nov. 11.
The market boasted fifty farmers and artisan food vendors when it opened in June; it closed with thirty-five.
Director Ron Pardini said the market will most likely return in the spring, probably in May.
His organization will need to apply for a new temporary one-year land use permit to use the parking lot, according to city staff.
As for the signs, it's unlikely much will change. Lafayette has strict regulations against signs in the public right-of-way and regulations do not permit the type of A-frame and directional signs operators had hoped to use.
City planning technician Sarah Allen wrote in an e-mail that the prohibition limits "visual clutter." She said the city is considering updating the sign ordinance in the next couple of years but that it will be a large undertaking and will require city council approval to initiate.
In May, organizers told city leaders that directional signage indicating where the market and parking are located was critical to its success, particularly in its first year.
They also said the market, which is tucked into a parking lot off Happy Valley Road, lacks visibility and asked for an exception.
However, the city council denied the request following advice from their city attorney that the signs did not comply with the ordinance. "While we understand the reasons the market would like to use these types of signs, it is the city's responsibility to enforce the code in a fair and consistent manner," Allen wrote last week.
The temporary land use permit does allow the operators to use banners on the site. The operators of the previous market at Plaza Park on Mt. Diablo Boulevard were allowed to use A-frames because it was on city-owned property. Lafayette Chamber of Commerce Director Jay Lifson said the market had momentum despite stiff competition from merchants such as Diablo Foods, Whole Foods, Safeway, Trader Joe's and Chow, which all sell organic produce. But Lifson thinks the sign ordinance affected business. "It didn't help them at all," he said.
Despite the setbacks, Pardini said his 18-year-old organization is not discouraged. "I felt it could be a good market and the community would support a farmers' market," he said. "We hope to come back."
Jennifer Modenessi covers Lafayette, Orinda and Moraga. Contact her at 925-943-8378. Follow her at Twitter.com/Jmodenessi.