Music at the market? BOA overturns city violation regarding entertainment at produce stand

The city issued a notice of violation to Biggers Market, saying it was not in compliance with the zoning. The regulatory body resolved the violation on Thursday. (Courtesy City of Wilmington)

WILMINGTON – The board of supervisors reversed a zoning violation for a popular business located on Market Street.

The City of Wilmington determined that Biggers Market added live music as an adjunct without the facility’s approval. But after an hour of deliberation Thursday, the board of supervisors voted 3-2 to oppose the city’s status.

Kathryn Thurston, the city’s division manager, explained that she has received several complaints about farmers markets and shopping centers hosting outdoor music.

City staff inspected the site on Feb. 17, 2022, a Wilmington police officer issued a trespassing order four days later. An updated notice was sent on April 21, citing the new city ordinance, which went into effect on Dec. 1, 2021.

The notice said that the larger tracks, which were added to the existing market, were not recorded in the field records and did not meet the buffer requirements. The breach also highlighted the problem of “random” parking on residential streets due to the large number of market visitors.

According to the city’s ordinance, loud music is prohibited within 500 residential blocks, one of which crosses the border to the south. Also by adding “outside” uses to the property, additional parking requirements are required.

“The parking allowed on this site is not sufficient for recreational use,” Mr Thurston told the group.

Under General Statue 160D-705 and the city’s land development ordinance, property owners have the right to appeal within 30 days. Matthew Nichols, an attorney acting for property owners Aubrey and Joy Rogers, filed an appeal on May 20 denying claims that the property they are breaking.

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Biggers Market, which was rebranded in 2021 from Port City Produce, has been hosting music to boost sales since 2015, Nichols said at Thursday’s meeting. The venue was established by old city ordinances, which did not regulate outdoor music in the business district.

“The staff has developed this as an additional use without a zoning permit and we cannot agree with that,” Nichols said.

He added that Biggers is not considered a venue because it does not have a permanent stage and does not pay audiences to enjoy music, instead entertainment is “opportunistic” for the product market.

He said that the city is trying to apply the new land development plan to the land plan that was approved under the old one. The city signed the company into compliance in June 2021, three months after the company announced it was relocating to its current location, 6250 Market St.

“It’s part of their business, part of their model, as a market enabler,” Nichols told BOA members. “It’s good for customers and it’s good for the environment.”

He also said that Biggers had never received a voicemail, which Thurston confirmed was true.

“I would say, they have to have a loud voice on Market Street with 55,000 cars going by a day,” Nichols said.

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Nichols, also the owner of Biggers Wells Struble, pointed to examples of other farmers’ markets that offer live music, such as the Wilmington Farmers Market at Tidal Creek. The building is adjacent to the Oleander Drive site.

Struble said regarding the parking lot, he and his business partners purchased a parcel adjacent to the market at 6240 Market St.

Although the project is ready for construction, permits still need to be approved.

Mr Thurston said four calls for help to the center came in due to stalling and collisions. Cars line Elijah Drive, the street next to the Market, making it difficult to see when exiting the parking lot.

Charles Stanley, a homeowner at 18 Elijah Drive, testified that his driveway has been closed several times. He said he could hear music when he was outside but said it was “not loud.”

Most board members seem more concerned with parking issues than loud noises, except for Mark Saulnier.

“The city has a real problem with neighborhood music,” he said.

Saulnier lives on Wrightsville Avenue and said he hears music from nearby businesses at times at night.

“Live music moves,” he said. “I don’t know if you have talked to your neighbors, but enjoy your things.” With music playing for six to eight hours a day, what if they don’t like the music or want to hear it?”

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Aside from Stanley, another person made a comment at the public meeting in support of the market.

Stephanie Jarvis, who lives next door to the Biggers, said Wilmington thrives on small businesses to drive its economy. The company employs local people and supports local farmers where it sources its produce.

“Big is good news in this community,” Jarvis told the group. “In their evolution as a business, yes, they have grown into what you call an ‘event center.’ But I didn’t come back after buying the ticket. But it has also become a place for family gatherings, which allows us to remember things.”

He added local musicians are trying to raise money.

No neighbors spoke against the music at the meeting and several audience members stood to support the Biggers.

“The real issue isn’t rezoning or additions, it’s parking and I believe the south side is working hard to address that,” board chairman Patrick Moore said.

He proposed a resolution to end the violation of the law, which was accepted by the majority of the council. Music can continue at Biggers Market.

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