COLUMBIA — The Columbia Planning and Zoning Commission on Thursday unanimously approved Sustainable Farms & Communities Inc.’s development plans for the long awaited Farmers' Market Pavilion.
Chairman Jeff Barrow said that it was his pleasure to be able to vote in favor of the development.
“Although this has been a long time coming, it has served to create a comprehensive, well-researched project,” he said.
Phase One of the proposed facility features a pavilion-style layout of approximately 22,000 square feet of canopies that will house up to 86 vendor stalls, as well as a 4,500-square-foot community building for educational outreach and concession space. The second phase will add a 10,000-square-foot building that will act as a year-round indoor market. Upon full completion of the project, the Farmers' Market Pavilion will also house certified kitchens for cooking demonstrations, a covered patio, a playground and meeting rooms. The facility will also play host to large-scale events such as weddings, festivals, conferences and public events.
“We are hoping to make it Columbia’s premier site for events," said Casey R. Corbin, executive director for Sustainable Farms and Communities Inc. "More than just a location for the farmers market, it will be a venue for any major community event.”
Although Phase One of the project is scheduled to begin construction in two years, Corbin said that the process could be sped up if private donors step in. To date, the campaign has generated almost $300,000 in private donations, but with a proposed budget of $2.5 million, Corbin said that it is appealing to the community to help finance the project.
“We have the support of the locals," Corbin said after the meeting. "There are many people in the community who see the benefit of healthy eating. Also, the farmers market allows the customer to deal directly with the producer. I like looking the farmer in the eye and asking him about his produce."
With hopes of achieving Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design Gold Status certification, the project features many eco-friendly characteristics, including solar panels, rain gardens, native plant species and bike paths.
“There are currently 4,800 farmers markets nationally, and we would love for this project to become a future blueprint for them,” Corbin said.
Columbia’s Farmers' Market enjoys strong ties to the community. Founded in the 1980s, the farmers market was originally conceived when a small group of farmers approached the Chamber of Commerce to request an official location to sell their locally grown and produced food, crafts and plants.
Despite making several venue changes over the years, the farmers market has grown tremendously, attracting farmers within a 55-mile radius and serving as a local tourist attraction. In 2004, the state awarded it Farmers Market of the Year. Now held on a 1.5-acre lot behind the Activity and Recreation Center, the market draws up to 60 vendors and more than 5,000 shoppers at a time when the weather is nice, according to the Columbia Farmers' Market's Web site. But it is highly vulnerable to extreme weather conditions.
The City Council is scheduled to vote on the plans June 15.