Marfa council approves less restrictive COVID rules, will host local farmer’s market

MARFA – At a city meeting on Tuesday, council discussed the opening of their new USO garden pavilion space, and voted to move the city into a less restrictive phase of its COVID-19 plan.

The city is working to create a terms of use agreement for the city’s recently beautified USO garden pavilion, so that residents and visitors can rent out the space to host weddings, parties, events and more. The outdoor space directly south of the USO Building was revitalized as part of a capital outlay project in this year’s budget, which council members had outlined as a priority this year after shelving the project last fiscal year.

With the space ready for rental, the first guest looks to be Farmstand Marfa, the Marfa farmers’ market where local vendors sell produce, baked goods, clothing, trinkets and more, and where nonprofits can fundraise. The Farmstand is not a formally-organized entity, and they do not charge for tables at their Saturday morning events.

Mandy Roane, the city manager, said “We do have the ability to waive fees if it’s for public enrichment,” and the council agreed that there would be no fee for the group to host their regular Saturday event. Councilmember Raul Lara also suggested the new outdoor event space be free for nonprofits.

Councilmember Buck Johnston said pricing the venue for other events was tricky. “We’re getting requests right now for use of our building for weddings and they’re looking for places to have a reception, and these are out-of-town folks who have good budgets.”

 

While council members suggested fees around $500 to start that would then be able to be bundled with rental of the main USO Building, they ultimately decided to table the issue of rental costs.

They did not wait, however, to move forward to allow Farmstand Marfa to begin again soon. Malinda Beeman, the event’s organizer, said it was likely to return in the next few weeks. Since it’s city property, they will encourage mask wearing. Beeman said, “A lot of the vendors are over 60. We want to protect them and the community. It really serves to help senior citizens’ income and it’s been a hardship not to have it for the past year.”

Mask wearing was another topic of discussion at the meeting. Council heard from department heads from the visitor’s center, City Hall and the gas company who requested to no longer be required to wear masks around fellow employees. Nicki Ittner represented the city’s public library, saying that a vulnerable staff member who isn’t currently able to be vaccinated means their department is more reticent to lift restrictions in the same way as other departments.

“We do intend to wear masks when dealing with the public,” said Jim Mustard of the gas company. As the council discussed restrictions, Mayor Manny Baeza urged them not to create confusion for the public by applying different restrictions to different departments.

They considered the “blue phase,” but ultimately voted to move into the “purple phase,” which is one step less restrictive than current rules. The city will continue to supply protective measures like gloves, masks, hand sanitizer and ask for six feet of social distancing. The purple phase also means the visitor’s center will have a maximum limit of 15 at a time, up from a limit of 10, but below the blue phase where an unlimited number of patrons may enter. The USO and MAC buildings will continue to stay closed for rentals under the updated phase. Going forward, staff will wear masks within the city when interacting with the public without a shield, including in city buildings as well as city employees like EMS who travel out to see patients, and the gas company that sees customers.

In other business, the city is in the next phase for scheduling major street improvements with KSA, the municipal engineering firm Marfa hired to renew its roads. The organization is forecasting construction for this fall. Councilmember Yoseff Ben-Yehuda told the council, “We’ll be having designs coming to council in the coming months.”

 


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