New Ordinance Guidelines hindering Approval of 2015 Farmers’ Market Permit

Will new guideline conditions provoke event organizers to stop hosting events due to hardship and extra costs?

FM LOGO-optiThe buzz that there may not be a Market this year amongst Farmers’ Market vendors and Waukesha area residents is just a rumor, but that doesn’t mean it’s going to happen. Forgive me if I’m not very optimistic of a positive, long-term outcome for events in downtown Waukesha…

The conflict and controversy regarding the 2015 Farmers’ Market is nothing new. As of late it’s a lot more than just qualms from the same few serial-complainers from the west-end.

First, let’s clarify a couple of things regarding the rumors about vendor applications, and plans for the 2015 Farmers’ Market.


  1. In 2013 and 2014 the Waukesha Farmers’ Market was organized and managed by the Waukesha Downtown Business Association (“WDBA”). For the past two seasons the WDBA and President, Norm Bruce, directed market volunteers and they were responsible for they successful promotion, substantial growth, and weekly operations of the market.
  1. Vendor Application Policies: Prior to 2014 it was a policy to hand out vendor application during the last months of the market. This accommodated eager vendors who wanted to attend the next year’s market by allowing submit their application and fees to secure their stall(s) for the following season.
  1. Farmers’ Market Controversy: In 2014 controversy concerning management of the 2015 Farmers’ Market created great uncertainty as to who would be operating the event. Based upon the the uncertainty applications for the 2015 market were not made available at the end of the 2014 season. Inquiring vendors were advised by the WDBA that they would not be accepting applications and dues for the 2015 Farmers’ Market.
  1. Rumors of No Farmers Market: Vendors were never advised by Norm Bruce or the WDBA that there was not going to be a Farmers’ Market in 2015. The WDBA has continually maintained the position that they want the Special Events Permit in hand before accepting applications and fees for 2015. Any rumor that there will not be a Farmers’ Market in Waukesha in 2015 was started by a confused vendor or someone else, not the WDBA.


In December, 2014 Mayor Shawn Reilly and six (6) Common Council members voted in favor of the WDBA running the market in 2015. The Mayor’s vote broke the 6-6 tie that left the decision in a stale-mate.

Q: Why haven’t vendors been able to submit their applications for 2015 despite this approval?

A: The necessary special event permit has not yet been approved by the city clerk.


Waukesha’s Special Event Permit Application

For large events (such as the Farmers’ Market) that have more than 400 people, event organizers are required to secure a “Special Event Permit” under §6.17 of the Waukesha Ordinances. The application must be submitted to the city clerk, who either approves, rejects, or requires further information from the event organizer. (See Application below)

Did the WDBA submit an application for the 2015 market?
Yes. In late November, 2014, Norm Bruce submitted the Special Event Application for the 2015 Farmers’ Market to the city clerk on behalf of the WDBA. Bruce provided the same information on the 2015 application that had been previously submitted under the same ordinance for the 2013 and 2014 market.

In January 2015 the city clerk returned the application to the WDBA. Mr. Bruce was advised by the clerk that plans for security, pedestrian safety, and sanitation, have not been adequately met. Several email communications were exchanged between Bruce and the clerk. Bruce was seeking specific details on the deficiencies of the application and what needed to be done to resolve the issues and get the permit approved.

After numerous requests that spanned several weeks, the clerk eventually advised Bruce that restrooms had to be within 200’ of the market. Additionally the clerk indicated that crossing guards should be assigned at several intersections for pedestrian safety. Without seeing all of the emails exchanged, I cannot provide any further details or other requirements suggested by the clerk.


Is there a New Special Event Permit Ordinance?

No. The ordinance itself did not change. The ordinance was last revised in May, 2013, and is the same ordinance that has covered the Farmers’ Market and other special events in 2013 and 2014.
Note: One might question whether applying new standards to an ordinance without first presenting them to, and getting final approval from the common council, is legal?

What has changed?
New administrative guidelines for §6.17 were implemented in February, 2015.

The ordinance governing special events is being interpreted and augmented by the new city attorney under the current city administration.


New Special Event Permit Guidelines

Just this past week the city clerk provided the WDBA with the newly created guidelines which address sanitation, health and safety accommodations under §6.17 of the Waukesha Ordinances. These guidelines impose certain criteria and conditions which must be met by event organizers before the clerk will approve a special event permit. (See Guidelines below)

The WDBA is working with the clerk to seek clarification as to how these conditions can be met so the permit may be approved.


What Problem is being solved?

Typically regulations are created to solve problems, so the sudden imposition of “new” guidelines under an existing ordinance would lead anyone to question what is provoking the change.

  • Have there been complaints about a lack of restrooms at events?
  • Has there been an incident or injury that requires heightened safety/security?
  • Are there issues regarding proper handling of waste and recyclables?
  • Has the health department determined that a health risk is present at the Farmers’ Market or other events?


If you’ve taken the time to review the new guidelines you will see that they create rather extensive, yet vague conditions. Further, it may require event organizers to purchase various services and otherwise incur extensive costs.

One thing is for certain. In light of the 11th hour special event guidelines, in hindsight it was very wise of the WDBA to hold off on accepting vendor applications and fees.

Will there be a Farmers’ Market in 2015?
The WDBA is doing everything in its power to get the special event permit approved. As noted above, they submitted the application to the clerk in November, 2014. However, whether or not they will be able to meet the new guideline requirements and timely launch the 2015 Waukesha Farmers’ Market remains to be seen at this point in time.

Based upon the newly enacted guidelines:

The WDBA is now looking to secure written agreements from 8-10 local businesses within 200’ of the market that are willing to let Farmers’ Market attendees use their restrooms for free of charge. If they are unable to get 8-10 agreements from local businesses, then arrangements for the rental of portable toilets and hand washing units will be necessary. Costs for portable toilets and hand washing units are currently unknown, but will be extensive.

The WDBA may have to secure between 15-30 recycling containers. They are currently working to address it. It is unclear whether there will need to be individual receptacles for plastic and aluminum cans, or whether a comingled receptacle is acceptable? Any cost for these receptacles are currently unknown, but likely certain.

The WDBA is uncertain as to whether or not they will be required to provide any security, safety or medical personnel. If so, there will be costs associated with these services as well.


What do the Guidelines Mean?


Increased Cost

Clearly there are going to be expenses in meeting all of these new requirements (necessary portable toilets, portable wash stations, security, safety or medical personnel, recycling containers, etc.).

In the context of the Farmers’ Market, vendors will likely be charged more for their stall fees to help offset any extra costs. I predict that if any increases of vendor fees are substantial, it will be reflected in increased product prices and carried over onto us, the shoppers.

Equal Implementation?

I called and spoke with City Attorney Brian Running about these issues last week. I was told that these requirements apply equally, without discrimination, to all events that fall within the ordinance. He assured me that this was not being directed only at the WDBA, but all event organizers in the city of Waukesha.

In other words, according to the city attorney the following events with more than 400 people in attendance will also be subject to compliance with the special event guidelines:

  • Waukesha Farmers’ Market
  • Waukesha Christmas Parade
  • Waukesha Art Crawls
  • Waukesha Santa Run
  • Walk to End Alzheimer’s
  • Carroll University Home Coming Parade
  • Waukesha Friday Night Live
  • Waukesha Independence Day Parade
  • Waukesha Run from the Cops
  • Waukesha GuitarTown
  • RiverWalk for Breast Cancer

What does the future hold for the Farmers’ Market and other Events?

Only time will tell at this point.

It appears that in reviewing recent common council hearings, there are several council members who believe the Farmers’ Market is a cash cow. One Alderman stated that the city is “leaving money on the table” by not accepting bids and RFP’s so the city can earn revenue from the market. Does the city technically “own” the Farmers’ Market? I would suggest the answer is no.

*Note. When the BID ran the Farmers’ Market there was no profit made from the market. This can be proven through audit documents held by the city. This is due to the fact that it was run like a government where there was paid staff – which ate up any of the profit. Often times the city budget was used to fund the BID.

For the past couple of years the market has been run by WDBA volunteers. They have marketed and grown the market into what it is today. Norm Bruce stated that he personally volunteered at least 300 hours in 2014, but didn’t have hours for other volunteers.


Special Events Application:

Special Event Application-opti

“New” Special Events Guidelines:

Special Event Guidelines for Waukesha(1)



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