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Farmers market at church gets town’s blessing, after all

By Staff | Jan 27, 2016

The farmers market at Beach Baptist Church takes place Wednesdays from 9 a.m. to 2 p.m. Last week, the town granted it a permit despite once questioning whether such an event is appropriate in a residential area.

Beach Baptist’s farmers market is back in business, not that it ever ceased operations.

The Fort Myers Beach Town Council on Jan. 19 granted it a permit as a recurring event after hearing words of support from members of the congregation and from a neighbor.

Now, pastor Shawn Critser will pay $250 for a license to hold the weekly Wednesday-morning event through May, before renewal is required. The market, which began in late November, is 35 vendors strong with room to grow to as many as 56 in its parking lot at the corner of Connecticut Street and Estero Boulevard. Vendors pay $40 per event to rent a slot – money which goes toward the church’s mission work. The sales of goods stay with the vendors.

“It’s taking on popularity, which is good,” said Ayita Williams, the town’s permit coordinator.

Critser had approached the council Jan. 4 with an after-the-fact request for a permit. The matter was not on the agenda, and not only was he told he’d need to apply in the proper manner but that he must in the meantime shut the market down.

Mayor Anita Cereceda also told him the event is in a “quiet zone” part of the island’s middle and that she had no intention of supporting it.

She later changed her mind.

“I called and apologized to pastor Shawn,” Cereceda said. “My comments were a little rough on this.”

Critser, who not only didn’t shut down the market during the waiting period but installed large banners promoting it, said he felt his church was exempt of the permit process.

“I should need one, but I want one,” he said. “I don’t want people to think I’m trying to hide behind religiosity or some sort of exemption.”

Had Critser not received the permit, he would have been facing a magistrate today with possible fines to follow.

The permit will include restrictions on alcohol sales and growth beyond the submitted site plan. The council also suggested the church plant bushes along Connecticut Street to create a buffer.

Several church members who spoke told of the importance the church serves for a village in Guatemala, where it provides mission work.

“If you saw how they lived, it would wrench your heart,” said Forrest Crister, the pastor’s father, who said he had served on mission trips to the Central American third-world country.

Also, a neighbor told the council he has experienced no noise or traffic problems with the church, noting that what the Mound House creates in traffic at the end of the street is more of a nuisance.

The council’s vote was unanimous in favor of the permit.

“It’s all good,” said Critser. “I think they recognize what we’re trying to do and find it acceptable. This was a good team effort tonight.”