ASHLAND — A block of Oak Street downtown will become a farmers market on Saturdays beginning in late May, the city's Planning Department decided Thursday.

ASHLAND — A block of Oak Street downtown will become a farmers market on Saturdays beginning in late May, the city's Planning Department decided Thursday.

Planners approved the Rogue Valley Growers & Crafters Market's request to move its Saturday market to Oak Street, despite concerns of some gallery owners that the street closure will hurt sales.

"Now we'll move forward and have a farmers market right downtown," said Heidi Dawn, Saturday market manager. "My intent is to work with downtown merchants, whether they're unsure about the success of their business on Saturdays or not."

The city issued the market a conditional use permit that allows it to use gates to close Oak Street to vehicle traffic between East Main Street and Lithia Way from 7 a.m. to 2 p.m. every Saturday the market is open. The market operates from 9 a.m. to 1 p.m. between May and October.

The city planning department said in its signed approval of the permit that it believes the market will boost downtown business.

"Public markets are beneficial uses which bring with them a sense of vitality that can enliven a city's downtown core; in this specific instance we believe that the proposed location is well suited for a Saturday market, and that the market will be beneficial to neighboring businesses and their employees, residents and the community at large," the document states.

Judy Howard, owner of Hanson Howard Gallery, which is scheduled to move to Oak Street this spring, asked the city not to approve the proposal because she was concerned it would result in fewer tourists buying art at downtown galleries. Howard could not immediately be reached for comment Thursday.

John Davis, co-owner of Davis and Cline Gallery on A Street, said he agreed with Howard's concerns and also asked the city not to approve the proposal.

"By allowing the Rogue Valley Growers & Crafters Market to occupy space that is critical to the larger tourist economy would be a huge mistake for some of our long-standing businesses and for the economy of the city in general," Davis wrote in his letter to the Planning Department.

The city will review the market's conditional use permit after a year, to address any concerns from neighboring businesses and to decide whether to renew the permit.

To avoid traffic congestion, the market will open on Oak Street sometime in late May, after the Oregon Department of Transportation finishes repairing the Lithia Way bridge over Water Street. The ODOT project is scheduled to be completed by May 15, but it's possible it will take longer, Dawn said.

The market, which opens May 7, will be held at its old location on the corner of First Street and Lithia Way until the ODOT project is completed.

Last year, the nonprofit lost its seasonal lease at the vacant lot, where the market began three years ago. PremierWest Bank obtained the property, once slated for a commercial and residential development, from former City Councilman Russ Dale in lieu of foreclosure and has offered the market only a month-to-month lease, Dawn said.

The Oak Street market will consist of 30 vendors, selling mostly produce, she said.

"I'm really pleased with the support I've gotten from the city and community at large," Dawn said, "and I'm really excited to start the season down there."

Hannah Guzik is a reporter for the Ashland Daily Tidings. Reach her at 541-708-1158 or hguzik@dailytidings.com