Market Plaza Special Use Permit Amendment

Market Plaza Special Use Permit Amendment

Dear Friends of City Market,

Whether you are a customer, vendor, or local food and market advocate, you are probably aware of the ongoing plans to establish a permanent home for the 42-year-old Charlottesville City Market.  It looked like the 20 year search was over when Woodard and Powe won the design contest to place the farmers market on Market Plaza, their proposal of a private development supporting a public plaza.  One of the requirements of the design contest, among many, was to provide a home for the market.  The Market Plaza edged out its completion in a unanimous vote, in part  because the public plaza concept met many more criteria for a successful market than the others.

The public plaza would allow for:

  • Permanence
  • Minimal user conflicts
  • Flexibility in public use
  • Build on the success of the weekly outdoor market
  • Accommodate phased growth of City Market
  • Create a dynamic downtown place that attracts the region’s residents and visitors


Things looked very promising for the future City Market, but they have now hit a snag.  The city and developers think that for the purposes of “operations, programming, management, and security” the public plaza would best be a private plaza with the market being allowed to take place on Saturdays for 99 years, and maybe on some other undefined days. Because of lack of vision for the market, the developers decided to use the space for special events and to give outdoor space to restaurants.  Once that happens, the market would have to compete for future space.  The private uses takes away prioritizing market use.

It all seems well-intentioned, but this is not the plan that won the contest, does not serve the best interests of the market, and no longer meets the criteria upon which they won the competition.  Several planning commissioners stated that they granted zoning variances to the applicants such as extra height and easement accesses because the design was to include the public plaza.  The solution that the planning commission ended up voting for is, in their words, “a private space with a bunch of rules”, and “a gated community”, instead of the “awesome public space” that they thought they were getting.

As supporters and users of the market, we ask you to read some of the letters and discussion about the private versus public ownership and management of the space.  You can watch the planning commission video from the Sept. 9 Planning Commission meeting and the Market Plaza report from the City Council 9/21/2015 meeting at

Market Central and most of the vendors who have voiced an opinion believe that the proposed amendment would be detrimental to the future of the market, because it boxes the market into its present conception with no opportunity for expansion, phased growth or flexibility. We believe that the developers can achieve their goals without reneging on the original proposal that they made to the public, and which we supported.

Many of the market stakeholders do have a vision for the future, but were not invited to the table to discuss it.  Based on customer feedback, there is interest in going year-round, having a food-truck style market on Fridays to coincide with Fridays after Five, a mid-week produce market, and even an arts market.  The plans could be phased in on a manageable time-table, also allowing time for vendors to increase capacity.  We already conduct market demos and other educational and promotional events.   Presently, all official decisions about city market are made by city officials, and no vendors, the vendor advisory board, or market advocates were asked about how a public or private space would affect market business.  Market Central believes that decisions about the market should be transparent and involve all the stakeholders, since the market is a public entity made up of vendors, customers, and several non-profit organizations that invest in education and services for the market.  Most markets nationally are now using public or private non-profit organizations to run their markets.

City Council will vote on whether to grant the Special Use Permit amendment from public to private on Oct. 5, 2015, less than a week away.  Please write to council at to voice your opinion, or write to   You can come to the council meeting too, but your best bet to influence voting is to write in time for councilors to read it.


Thank you,

The Market Central Board


Letters discussing the Special Use Permit Amendment:

Public Space Security Discussion – Gary Okerlund

Public Space Support Letter – Rachel Williamson & Market Central

Letter of Support – Rachel Williamson

SUP Amendment LetterMarket Central