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Farmers Market at Beach Baptist told to shut down

No permit is in place, fines could follow

January 5, 2016
By John Morton ( , Fort Myers Beach Bulletin, Fort Myers Beach Observer

The pastor at Beach Baptist Church plans to hold his weekly farmers market today. He also expects to be served papers by the town.

On Monday, Shawn Critser was denied a permit for the market, which began Nov. 25 without consent and has grown to nearly 30 vendors, because his application was incomplete. Subsequently, he was instructed to stop hosting it until approved.

However, Mayor Anita Cereceda made it clear the church at 130 Connecticut St. wouldn't get her approval regardless.

"That's in our quite zone," she said of the church's location. "The impact on that neighborhood is intense."

Council member Rexann Hosafros agreed, noting she'd received complaints that "too much has been going on there."

Interviewed after Monday's Town Council meeting, Critser said: "We're not just a Wednesday (market) and Sunday (worship service) church. Public outreach is something we try and do as much as possible, like a church should."

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He said he doesn't feel a permit should even be required, saying his read on the description regarding permitting says a religious institution is exempt as long as its event is on church grounds. Further, he said his church was grandfathered in during rezoning years ago.

"I'll take the citation because I want to see a magistrate to get this straightened out," said Critser, who also plans to meet with the town's code enforcement people today. "I was told that after I see a magistrate if I'm still denied I'll be subject to a fine of $250 the first time, $500 the next, and so on until I reach the maximum of $5,000. I'll pay the fines if I have to because I believe I'm in the right."

The market rents space to vendors from throughout the region for $40 per slot per event, Critser said. After costs, which include a coordinator, money earned goes toward causes including mission work in Guatemala. He personally oversees a tent that features coffee produced by the people his church supports.

Cereceda suggested Beach Baptist team up with the town's market, which is held Friday mornings at Bay Oaks Recreational Campus.

"I'm not doing that," Critser said. "That's a different day and a whole different thing. We like what we have."



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