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Parking Authority tells Ruritans to wait on parking lot approval

What has regularly been a routine approval process for decades has turned into a struggle for the Culpeper Ruritans.

Getting approval for Culpeper Day 2013 isn't a given this year on downtown Davis Street.

Following a compromise on which streets would be closed for the event offered by the Culpeper Town Council at its Nov. 11 meeting, the Culpeper Parking Authority balked at offering the East Davis Street parking lot to the Ruritans for the day due to conflicts with the Downtown Farmers Market.

The Ruritans have requested use of the lot as space for vendors in addition to space on Davis Street.

Although members of the Parking Authority are appointed by Town Council, it is independent of the council and may make binding decisions.

“The number one thing for me is that if (Culpeper Day) happens the first week of May it is right in the middle of the Farmer's Market season,” said Parking Authority chairman Pranas Rimeikis, also a former Culpeper mayor. “I'd like to know what the farmers who are vendors think about this.”

The Downtown Farmer's Market typically opens the last Saturday in April.

After discussion, the authority agreed not to act on the proposal at its Nov. 30 special meeting, but to instead have another special meeting Dec. 14 so input from vendors and Culpeper Renaissance, Inc., which manages the Farmer's market, could be gathered.

While acknowledging that the Ruritans need to have a decision so they can begin planning, Rimeikis urged caution.

“I'm not willing to throw 40 vendors – many of whom have at least part of their livelihood from the market – under the bus for the sake of expediency.”
Member Kelsey Carlson offered an alternative.

“We could offer the Ruritans the Spencer Street Lot,” she said. “It' has much more space. Then they could plan.”

Council member Marty Moon suggested offering the Farmer's market space at the Ann Wingfield building for that one weekend.

“We don't even own that lot,” noted member Elana Clements.

“We need to know soon,” incoming Ruritan president Skip Price told the authority. “There is a lot of planning that goes into this with our vendors. We usually have 120 vendors and we have already downsized to around 80.”

Rimeikis noted that there are approximately 100 spaces in the Spencer Street lot.

“That would be more than enough room.” he said.

Scott Fisher, incoming Ruritan vice president, told the authority the 33-year-old event should have some preference downtown.

“We have already been denied a huge section of Davis Street (by the Nov. 11 council vote),” Fisher said.

Added Price, “we think this is a good event. We;re trying to work (through objections) any way we can.

Fisher suggested incorporating the Farmer's Market into Culpeper Day.

“The farmers are welcome as part of our event,” Price agreed. “We're just trying to do what we can to enhance Culpeper's downtown.”
Money raised at Culpeper Day is used for scholarships and community projects.

“We have no background in (what the farmer's need at their market),” said Clements. “We don't know if they'll say (moving them for one week) is OK or if they'll say they don't want to do it. We have a a regularly scheduled meeting in January. Couldn't we gather information from the farmers and decide then?”

Fisher noted that vendor applications usually go out in November and have already been delayed.

“Most vendors make their plans at least six months ahead of time,” he said.

“It's unfair to put us under the gun,” said Rimeikis “We need to give the farmers an opportunity to weigh in on this.”

After further discussion the December special meeting was approved.

However, Price said that may be too late.

“It's very possible that in the next two weeks we would have to make a decision to cancel Culpeper Day for 2013.”

At press time Tuesday, Culpeper Times had not received any notice of cancellation of the event.

Culpeper Day debacle
As has been done since 1979, the Ruritans asked the council in October to close off Davis Street for Culpeper Day which occurs in the spring – generally the first Saturday in May. The request was sent back to committee.

Following the October meeting, Councilman Dave Lochridge met with Ruritan club representative Billy Walter, who presented the original request, and it appeared a deal had been struck to keep Culpeper Day on Davis Street.

However, just before the vote at the Nov. 13 meeting, Councilman Bobby Ryan, a supporter of the Davis Street merchants who say the festival is causing them to lose revenue, offered an amendment.

The original motion, offered by Lochridge with the support of both Culpeper Renaissance, Inc. and the Ruritans, would have allowed closing of the 200 block of East Davis Street but kept the 100 block open.

Ryan's amendment, which was supported by all of the councilmen (Ben Phillips was absent) with the exception of Lochridge and Mayor Chip Coleman, allows only part of the 200 block – the area used for Third Thursday events – to be blocked off with Parking Authority approval.

“There has been a lot of discussion about this between last month and this month,” Walter told Culpeper Times. “With the amendment, this agreement is now different than what was discussed (with Lochridge). In those discussions we were told we would be able to use the entire 200 block.
“We'll have to make do, because that is what they have given us. We'll make do. [Culpeper Day] is a 33-year-old tradition and I believe the agreement I made with Mr. Lochridge accommodates the merchants.”
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