Less than 24 hours after its cancellation, the Hermiston Farmers Market is being replanted.
City of Hermiston parks and recreation director Larry Fetter said Thursday afternoon that the city was pulling together “the right team of individuals” to resurrect the event, which Fetter said will take place on the festival street that the city is currently constructing in front of city hall. The move comes after local business owner Mitch Myers announced Wednesday night he was canceling the event due to a dispute with the city over a new pavilion he was building, which would have served as the market’s new home this year.
“My phone’s been ringing off the hook,” Fetter said. “People are really upset at the thought of not getting what they thought they would be getting, in a permanent home for the farmers market, and at the idea of it being canceled.”
Fetter said details are still being worked out, but the plan is to hold the market on Thursday evenings and include live entertainment, themes and other additions to the traditional farmers market format. He said he will put together an informational meeting for vendors for next week and the first date for the opening of the market will likely be June 28.
“It’s a little bit of a late start but that’s because of the circumstances,” he said.
The Hermiston Farmers Market has had several locations in the past, including the community center, McKenzie Park and downtown. Myers, of Mitco Investments, had planned to take over the event for 2018 and host it in the Maxwell Pavilion, a 4,000-square-foot shade structure Mitco planned to erect this month after adding parking and landscaping to the site at 255 South First Place. Its first day was to be June 2.
Construction of the pavilion has been held up, however, by a stop-work order placed on the site by the city’s building department, and Myers announced at an informational meeting for vendors on Wednesday that he was canceling the farmers market as a result.
Even after a plan was put in place to host the market elsewhere this year, some vendors were still upset.
“We are disappointed,” said Krieg Mueller and John Finley, of Third Generation Farms. “Mr. Myers’ plan was the best plan going forward to make for a successful market. We will have to re-evaluate our plans to join the Hermiston market this year which will not be an easy decision to make.”
Many on social media expressed disappointment in the situation.
Richard Price told the East Oregonian he was moving his family from Spokane to Hermiston in June because he wanted to raise his children in a smaller town, and said he had been highly disappointed to see posts online that the farmers market had been canceled. He called farmers markets exactly the type of livability he was looking for in moving to a small town.
“Those are one of the things that’s a foundation of a small town, is a farmers market, and you’re sitting right there in an agricultural area,” he said.
Before the announcement of the market being resurrected by the city, he said it seemed that people involved just needed to sit down “as grownups” and work something out.
Myers has announced he intends to sue the city over what he sees is unfair treatment of his projects by city building official Chuck Woolsey, which Myers believes is motivated by personal dislike.
Brent Smith, attorney for Mitco, sent a tort claim notice to Woolsey, permit technician Heidi Wilson, mayor David Drotzmann and city attorney Gary Luisi dated March 2. It stated that Mitco intended to sue the city’s building department for a stop-work order on another Mitco project at 338 N. First Place. Smith said Mitco and its legal team are now considering how to proceed to court, in light of the additional stop-work order on the pavilion site issued last week.
As a result of the involvement of attorneys, assistant city manager Mark Morgan said the city couldn’t respond to Myers’ claims of unfair treatment. Drotzmann said in an email that he also could not discuss the pending litigation, but did say that it was unfortunate that it had caused a disruption to the farmers market
“As we have always done in the past, the city would be happy to work with the vendors and businesses that wish to continue to have a farmers market or other downtown events in a location owned by the city until which time Mr. Myers’ issues are resolved,” he wrote, referencing the city’s previous support of the market in various locations and adding that the city looked forward to “continuing our long and positive relationship” with vendors.
If a lawsuit does proceed, it would not be the first time Myers sued the city of Hermiston. In 2009 his business Nookie’s Bar & Grill filed a $1.5 million lawsuit against the city and Hermiston Police Department. According to East Oregonian articles at the time, Myers alleged that the police department was unfairly singling out his business and exaggerating police reports connected to the address in an attempt to get its liquor license revoked.
A federal judge dismissed the lawsuit and Nookie’s lost the appeal.
In the current case, Smith said Woolsey seemed to be holding Mitco to a higher standard than other developers after Myers said he and Woolsey argued over an unrelated project.
“A building inspector has discretion, but a building inspector can’t just pick on someone and cause them delay and not do so for anyone else, and not do so for reasons of health and safety,” Smith said.
In the case of the former coal bin building at 388 N. First Place, Smith said the renovation project was being done as a design-build, meaning that the design and building process are integrated instead of creating a set of plans before starting work. He said Woolsey stopped work when the project was nearly complete and said Mitco needed to submit plans, even though many other projects around Hermiston have operated under a design-build process.
In the case of the Maxwell Pavilion, Smith provided a copy of a notice from the building department after the stop-work order that lists 12 comments concerning things Mitco needs to provide the building department, including plans for restrooms, door latches and exit signage before the building department begins a plan review. Myers says he does not plan to have walls, doors or restrooms on the shade structure.
In both cases, Myers also makes other allegations about Woolsey purposely slowing up the process and adding unnecessary roadblocks.
“Mitco is in the business of developing property, not filing lawsuits, but we’ve got to find a way to move this,” Smith said.
Contact Jade McDowell at email@example.com or 541-564-4536.