BRATTLEBORO - The Development Review Board has approved an application by the Brattleboro Area Farmers' Market to convert the former Planet Gas Station on Western Avenue into a parking area for the market.
The board's decision now paves the way for the market to move ahead with its plan to tear down the canopy and remove the gas pumps and create about 30 new parking spaces for the busy market which operates during the growing season at its Western Avenue location.
"This is a huge step and it really aligns with our goal for the future, which is to remain on Western Avenue," said farmers' market board President Ra Van Dyke. "The Planet Gas Station piece is a big part of that and it gives the market a major piece of security for the future."
Owning the former Planet Gas Station land is one piece of a long range plan to purchase all of the parcels the market now rents from land owners.
The market is very close to finalizing a deal with Green Mountain Power to purchase the land that includes the main market area.
The final piece of land, which includes the main parking area along Western Avenue, is under negotiations with the present owner.
With the DRB's decision the market can now move ahead and begin working on the Planet Gas Station piece.
Van Dyke says underground tanks need to be removed and most of the structures on the lot will be taken down.
The convenience store will remain, he says, though the market board and membership have not yet decided what will happen to that structure.
The market can use the building for storage, there is water and a bathroom there, and Van Dyke says there is a possibility that the highly visible store could be converted into a year round farmers' market store, though that decision has not yet been made.
"We are hoping to be able to use it this season, but that remains to be seen," said longtime farmers' market vendor Jerry Smith, who co-owns Deer Ridge Farm in Guilford.
The market board is still figuring out the finances for the project, and the work will likely force the board to suggest an increase in the annual vendor fees.
The market also will be applying for a USDA loan to complete the work on the land.
"There are costs associated with all of this," Smith said. "We are still working out the funding. We hope that with the increased parking and visibility we will see an increase in sales and have a better market."
Smith said that even with a slight increase in vendor fees on the horizon the market board and membership have been supportive of the land purchases.
The market did a study in 2006 that looked at the potential of moving somewhere else in Brattleboro compared with the long-term viability of remaining on Western Avenue.
The study overwhelmingly found that the Western Avenue site was the best location for the market and the board has been slowly working since then to secure its future there.
At the end of 2006 the market purchased the Mallory lot, the land near Living Memorial Park which opened up new parking, and with the DRB's approval of Planet Gas Station land the market now controls about 80 parking spots.
"It is very exciting what is happening and hopefully this ensures our long term future" Smith said. "It feels like we are pulling it all together piece by piece."
Howard Weiss-Tisman can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or 802-254-2311 ext. 279.