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Editorial: Come on, Amherst ... fix produce market's zoning issue

It’s a tempest in a tomato stand.

The Town of Amherst is putting the squeeze on George’s Produce Market, whose owner last year purchased two adjoining parcels of land at Wehrle and Aero drives. Michael Pope relocated the business, which has been in his family for 60 years, to the plot of land and began selling his flowers, fruits and vegetables.

Pope’s land, as outlined in a Buffalo News story by Stephen Watson, sits primarily in the Village of Williamsville, with about 14 percent of it in Amherst. The way the land is zoned in Williamsville makes it permissible for Pope to do business there. In Amherst, however, it sits on land that is not zoned for retail. The town has threatened to shut down his business.

Pope’s temporary solution is to slide his retail operation over to the Williamsville side, to avoid running afoul of the law. The whole situation is somewhat silly, and will probably be resolved – will cooler heads of lettuce prevail? – but it’s an example of why the owners of small businesses sometimes feel like government is throwing needless obstacles into their path.

Pope says he did not realize his property sits in two towns until February. He wasn’t aware of the zoning problem until late spring, when he received a warning from Amherst.

The market owner is not faultless in the dilemma. He was advised to seek a use variance from the town’s Zoning Board of Appeals. When the zoning board met, Pope wasn’t there. He said he got confused about the date of the meeting. In his absence, the board turned down his request for a variance.

That amounts to a “dog ate my homework” excuse that doesn’t help you in a fight against town hall. Still, couldn’t Amherst see the wisdom of cutting Pope some slack and letting him sell his vegetables on the corner?

It’s not for nothing that zoning laws exist and need to be enforced. But the unique circumstances of this one make the town’s vigilance seem a little overdone.

Sometimes the pursuit of law and order is lacking in common sense. This year in Miami and in Denver, lemonade stands operated by kids were shut down because the operators did not pay for permits to operate them. In response, the makers of Country Time Lemonade announced the formation of Legal-Ade, a division of the company that will defend kids’ rights to have lemonade stands and will even pay their fines.

Pope hired a lawyer and hopes to reach a resolution with Amherst. We hope the long arm of the law can relax its grip on his vegetable stand and let it prosper selling locally grown produce for years to come.

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