Thursday, July 18, 2024

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Graham, NC 27253
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Six-hour council meeting prolonged by Spanish translation during Buckhorn public hearing

A request for annexation and rezoning to allow the construction of a trucking and freight terminal drew a crowd of nearly 200 people, including Buckhorn flea market vendors, who pleaded with Mebane’s city council Monday night to extend the July 15 deadline they’d been given to vacate the premises.

Mebane’s city council had no purview over any decision about when vendors should be required to vacate the Buckhorn flea market property.  City attorney Lawson Brown pointed out prior to the public comment period Monday night that the council “has no authority to zone” the property targeted for the trucking and freight terminal until it is annexed.

The owner of the property, Orange County Investors Partnership, had asked to annex the 84-acre site, currently within Mebane’s extraterritorial jurisdiction (ETJ), into the city limits. The property is located within “an economic development high-intensity district” established by Orange County government.

Orange County Investors had requested conditional rezoning to allow for light manufacturing and general business uses, similar to the zoning previously approved for the Medline distribution center and Thermo Fisher Scientific facility along West Ten Road in western Orange County, city officials said Monday night.

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Eventual construction of the trucking and freight terminal planned by R+L Carriers, however, will displace the Buckhorn flea market, a favorite weekend site for both vendors and shoppers for nearly four decades.  Traffic at the Buckhorn Road exit off I-85/40 often backs up as cars seek to make the turn off Buckhorn Road into the flea market, also known informally as the “Buckhorn jockey lot.”

For almost as many years, vendors have frequented the flea market to sell overstock and secondhand merchandise at deep discounts.

Most of the vendors who spoke Monday night, at times tearfully, told the council that they’d been notified in mid-June that the property was being sold and they had until mid-July to vacate.

The management at the Buckhorn Jockey Lot notified vendors via a letter dated June 12, 2024 that they had until July 15 to vacate the premises, and no sales would be allowed at the flea market after Sunday, June 30, based on a copy of the letter sent to the vendors and posted on Facebook.

The crowd of approximately 200 people who attended Monday night’s meeting overflowed the council’s chambers, with more than four dozen spilling into a “overflow” room inside city hall.

Mebane’s city council heard Monday night from 15 speakers – many of whom spoke little or no English but described how for years they’d relied on what they’d earned from selling merchandise at the flea market to house, feed, and clothe their families, and for some, to finance their children’s education.

The opponents apparently brought their own Spanish translator with them.

Mebane police chief Mitch McKinney approached the dais at the outset of the discussion and informed the mayor, Ed Hooks, that a Spanish translator was available at that time, but wouldn’t be available later in the evening, prompting the order of several of the eight items to be shuffled in order to accommodate translation to Spanish.

The break along with the singsong discussion – as comments by each person, including the developers, attorneys, and council members were stated in English and then restated in Spanish, and vice-versa for the opponents who spoke against the project – consumed the first 2½ hours of Monday night’s marathon, 6-hour-long council meeting.

Wendy Padilla, of 105 King Charles Street in Hillsborough, told the council Monday night that the vendors should be given more time remove their belongings and to find a new location to sell their merchandise.

Padilla, who was elected to her first term on the Orange County school board in March of this year, urged the council to consider “extending their stay” at the flea market so that vendors have an opportunity to sell the merchandise they had already stocked for the summer and fall seasons.  There are structures – which many speakers termed “carports,” similar to canopied tables – that will take longer than a couple of weeks to relocate, Padilla said.

Bennie Gonzalez, of 2000 Paisley Drive, Haw River, told the council he had been established as a vendor at the flea market for nine years.  “We were given such short notice,” Gonzalez said Monday night.  “This is part of my job, which I do every Sunday.  We want more time to figure out where we can go to have another flea market.”

Most of the speakers who addressed the proposal that will uproot the long-running flea market said they understand that the property is being sold but just need more time, beyond the July 15 deadline to vacate, in order to make other arrangements.

Most vendors – all but a handful of whom were of Latino descent – pressed Monday night to have three months to vacate their spaces at the flea market.  Speaking either exclusively in Spanish or in broken English, one by one, the vendors told how they depend on what they earn from selling merchandise at the flea market to eat and live.

Several flea market vendors also acknowledged, “This is a good project in general,” which will generate jobs for Mebane, but insisted they need more time to figure out their next move.

Henry Toledo of 202 Supper Club Road, Mebane, said he’d patronized the flea market for more than a dozen years and sold there for the past six.

“[The developers] didn’t think about what to do with all these families that depend on it,” Toledo said, telling the council that he’d hoped to use his future earnings from selling at the flea market to pay for his daughter’s college education.  “We earn our money with the sweat of our brow, but we are proud of that.  We are asking for three months, but also to be able to sell.”

Marco Vega of 2554 Dare Street, Burlington, told the council he’d been a vendor at Buckhorn flea market for 25 years, and to be booted on such short notice “seems like an injustice.”

“Thousands depend on the flea market for their livelihood,” said Vega.  “[We] have lots of containers to remove from there,” he said, adding that he found out about the impending sale of the property and closure of the flea market, effective June 30, via a text message.  “We know it is not our land, and we know that the land is basically sold,” he said, saying he and other vendors just need more time than the July 15 deadline to vacate and make other arrangements.

German Tascon of 2057 Tundra Drive, Burlington, also a non-English-speaking vendor, became visibly emotional as he pleaded with the council to provide more time for the vendors to plan their next move.  “I think you all forgot to think about these people who work there,” Tascon said, pointing out that he had recently obtained a bank loan in order to purchase a “carport” to display his merchandise at the flea market.

Alba Luz Miranda of 973 Heritage Mountain Trail, Randleman, told the council she had raised her daughter off what she made selling at the flea market and cleaning houses, income that she said had become critical after her husband got sick.  “[There are] many families like mine who depend on the flea market to make a living,” said Miranda.

Craig Williams of 2406 McGregor Road, Mebane, told the council he’d moved to Mebane eight years ago and also works as a vendor at the flea market.  Williams said that he had just purchased merchandise to sell this summer, and asked the council for an extension of the deadline to vacate in order to be able to sell those products.  “We embrace development,” Williams told the council.  “I’ve lived her eight years, so I’ve seen a lot of development under your [guidance].”

Luvia Martinez of 3313 South N.C. Highway 119, Hw River, told the council that, as a stay-at-home mother – with one child enrolled at Alamance Community College and another, at Southeast High School – her selling at the flea market for the past 10 years had allowed her to demonstrate for her children “how satisfying it is to earn your living from your own hard work.”

Veronica Torres of 1135 Strader Drive, Burlington, told the council Monday night, “We appreciate what you’re offering [by extending the deadline to vacate until August 14], but it really isn’t enough.”

A sudden outburst, apparently a protest, erupted in a hallway outside the council chambers but was brought under control immediately.

“We need a solution,” said Torres.  “That’s why we came to you, as elected officials, to help.”  She said she’d used her earnings from selling at the flea market to pay for her son’s college education, and he’s set to graduate next year.

Though she thanked the developers for the extension, Torres added, “They didn’t ask the people at the flea market. We are working-class, and we don’t have a month.  The thing that is being offered is not enough.”

One of the attorneys representing the property owner said later in the discussion that the deadline to vacate would be moved from July 15 until August 14, but that the city’s ordinances would not allow the property to continue operating as flea market once the site was rezoned.

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