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Business owner wants city to enforce ordinances, codes
Matt Frey, owner of a downtown Ashland retail store, has picked another fight with Plaza users. Frey, outspoken as of late on issues concerning downtown loitering and panhandling, has decided to take on the Lithia Artisans Market, a fixture in recent years on Calle Guanajuato.
Frey says the local and regional artists who sell the wares at the weekend open air market are violating the terms of their lease with the city. In a five-page e-mail to the Ashland Parks Department sent in February, Frey outlined 19 points in which the artists are not compliance with city regulations.
“What if a booth catches fire, what if someone gets hurt,” Frey said on Saturday as the market transpired behind his Plaza business. “We just want everyone to follow the law.”
Many of the artists say Frey has another agenda behind his crusade.
Frey has rudely and single-handedly, many say, attacked their weekend craft fair because the market competes with his imported gift-ware shop, Rare Earth.
“I think he sees us as an economic threat,” Marcus Scott, who makes and sells handcrafted jewelry. “It’s a bullying tactic. He claims to be speaking on behalf of a whole entourage of Plaza businesses. When you pick on the Lithia Artists Market, it’s like picking on the small kid on the playground.”
The director of the weekend craft market, Maria DiMaggio, said she was “accosted” by Frey, when he first brought his issues to her attention last season.
“He came up at me and got in my face,” she said. “It’s no way to develop a relationship with someone. If someone has a problem, let’s fix it. But don’t scream at me.”
Don Robertson, director of the Ashland Parks and Recreation Department, said he is looking into Frey’s complaints. The issue will be brought to the parks commission at its monthly meeting on Monday, May 22 at the Parks Department in Lithia Park.
Robertson said Frey is right that the artists have been 4-feet closer to the fire lane than they are supposed to be. The contract says the vendors are supposed to maintain a 12-feet fire lane. But Roberston said the Ashland Fire Department has deemed an 8-foot fire lane appropriate. Parks commissioners will decide if they should amend the market’s contract to comply with the Ashland Fire Department’s judgement.
“That will come up at the parks meeting,” Robertson said. “We’re trying to document Matt’s concerns, vet which ones are accurate and which ones fall short.”
Adam Hanks, Ashland’s code compliance officer, said Frey has brought up some valid points about where some vendors set up. Frey complained that vendors on either side of Calle Guanajuato have extended the market too far into the public sidewalk, where their lease does not cover. Hanks agreed.
“What Matt is requesting we do is to follow the letter of the law, which he is definitely within his purview to do,” Hanks said. “When a complaint is filed, we have to look at the exact letter of the approval.”
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