City of St. Pete bureaucrat forces popular ‘Founders Market’ to close

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As Americans search for better, healthier food options, a small independent farmer’s market in St. Petersburg comes under fire from City Hall, ending a popular Saturday morning tradition.

“Fresh Market at Founders Corner” has become a victim of city officials, who claim the vendors are acting outside of city ordinances, although organizers and the property owner says they have made every effort to comply with the law, including submitting site and parking plans as requested.

Closing the market, which had operated every Friday and Saturday for more than a year in north St. Petersburg, leaves neighborhood residents with one less source of fresh, affordable and locally produced food and produce.

“A lone bureaucrat of the City of St. Petersburg – (Planner II ) Shane Largent – has taken the law into his own hands and shut down the popular Saturday morning version of the market,” says Dr. David McKalip, the neurosurgeon who owns the “Founders Corner” property at 4th St. and 62nd Ave. N.

“His only reason: because he can,” McKalip says in an article for the Sunbeam Times.

McKalip, a local political activist and former City Council candidate, believes he is the target of a “power-hungry bureaucrat” who has “dug deep” into law, using powers that previously did not exist. Largent works for the city’s Planning and Economic Development department, which regulates events such as farmer’s markets.

At issue is a vague code in the city ordinance titled “16.50.410 Temporary Uses.” By arbitrarily designating the Founders Market as an “Event of Public Interest” under Paragraph 5, rather than “Other Temporary use” under Paragraph 11, Largent was able to allow the market to operate on Fridays, but not on Saturdays.

The result is no market, under threat of financial and other penalties for both McKalip and Market operator Joe Iziarry.

“This is yet another example of the massive City Government of St. Petersburg running amok to trample freedom and businesses,” McKalip writes. “There can be only one motivation: submission to the controlling power of those who deem us as their ‘subjects.’”

Compounding the issue is the much larger Saturday Morning Market, held most weekends at Al Lang Field in downtown St. Petersburg. McKalip notes that the bigger event is allowed to operate without the same permits he is required to hold.

Largent justified the discrepancy to McKalip by saying the Market operates under an “old Mayoral Proclamation.” However, McKalip sees that excuse as just singling out events of “the favored,” while punishing the “riff raff” by inventing new laws.

“The City Government doesn’t seem to remember that the Citizens constituted the government to serve them, not to be subjects of the Government,” he adds.

McKalip personally asked for a meeting with Mayor Rick Kriseman to solve the problem, and urges his administration to stop using bureaucrats to hinder the “struggling, vulnerable and voiceless,” the same people the mayor vowed to support in his inaugural address.

Phil Ammann is a St. Petersburg-based journalist and blogger. With more than three decades of writing, editing and management experience, Phil produced material for both print and online, in addition to founding HRNewsDaily.com. His broad range includes covering news, local government and culture reviews for Patch.com, technical articles and profiles for BetterRVing Magazine and advice columns for a metaphysical website, among others. Phil has served as a contributor and production manager for SaintPetersBlog since 2013. He lives in St. Pete with his wife, visual artist Margaret Juul and can be reached at phil@floridapolitics.com and on Twitter @PhilAmmann.