Falmouth may relax farmers market rules

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FALMOUTH — The town may amend its code of ordinance to make it easier for farmers markets to obtain permits.

There is one farmers market in town, operated for the last three years by the Cumberland Farmers Market Association at American Legion Post 164 on Depot Road every Wednesday from noon-4 p.m., May through October.

The market has operated in the parking lot, only part of which is owned by the Legion. Part of the parking lot is public, according to CFMA President Kathy Shaw.

But according to Community Development Director Amanda Stearns, local zoning only allows farmers markets in two places: the Tidewater Master Plan District and the West Falmouth Crossing Master Plan District. The Falmouth Zoning Ordinance also only addresses farmers markets as a permanent land use.

Because the market is partially on public land, Stearns said the town has allowed the market to operate at the Depot Road location. 

“Certainly the town has taken the position of non-enforcement,” Stearns said.

Farmers markets, as defined by the town’s ordinance, are open-air markets that provide local farmers the chance to sell goods either grown on their farms or made from goods grown on their farms.

The market originally operated in the parking lot of the local Wal-Mart, but had to move after Wal-Mart renewed its lease under changed circumstances in 2012.  The market then operated in the area known as Village Park, but that area ultimately became home to the Casco Bay Arena.

The market was then given permission to use space at the Legion. It also operates one day a week in the Cumberland Town Hall parking lot at 290 Tuttle Road.

Stearns’ memo said there is no record of any farmers market being granted a permit, but the town decided not to enforce the ordinance when the market was in the Wal-Mart parking lot and at Village Park.

Stearns said there are two different ways to address the issue.

The first would be through zoning and site plan review. That would set the market in a certain place, however, and would require permanent land use rights. The other option, she said, would be temporary permits that have to be renewed annually.

Stearns said most towns she has researched permit farmers markets as temporary events, like a road race or concert.

Town Councilors Claudia King and Aaron Svedlow, who are members of the Ordinance Committee that met to discuss the issue Monday night, both favored a renewable, temporary permit process for farmers markets.

“It seems like there’s a need for a temporary permit process,” Svedlow said.

There was also consensus that a market should be able to operate anywhere in town, provided the council agrees to the location and the association agrees to any conditions of approval that may be required by town staff.

Svedlow later said as long as a market is “safe and reasonable,” it should be able to operate anywhere.

Stearns said they will also have to look at the town’s definition of what a farmers market is. She said it is very restrictive and requires vendors to be working farmers, and there are some vendors who don’t meet that definition: a food truck operator, for example, who makes and serves crepes.

Shaw said when the market first started, there was a narrow range of vendors and products. However, as time progressed, she said the demand for value-added products increased.

“People want to be able to do it all. It makes the market more economically viable,” she said. She added that farmers markets also serve as springboards for small business owners who want to see if there is a demand for their products.

The committee seemed to agree that some vendors should be allowed to sell products other than farmed goods.

The next step will be for town staff to draft language for the ordinance amendment. Svedlow said he wanted to see language that “was not too, too onerous.”

Colin Ellis can be reached at 781-3661 ext. 123 or cellis@theforecaster.net. Follow him on Twitter: @colinoellis.

The Falmouth Farmers Market has been allowed to operate in the parking lot of American Legion Post 164 at 65 Depot Road and prior locations without a permit. 

Reporter covering the Portland Public School District as well as the town of Falmouth for The Forecaster. Can be reached at 781-3661 ext. 123 or cellis@theforecaster.net.