FALMOUTH — Town Councilors on Monday approved vendor licenses for the annual farmers market, but the decision didn’t come without debate.
The location of the farmers market, run by the Cumberland Farmers Market Association, has bounced around over its 15-year history. This will be the second year the market will be set up in the parking lot of American Legion Post 164 at 65 Depot Road.
Councilors approved licenses for more than a dozen vendors, including traditional farms, bakeries and other vendors. The market will be open Wednesdays from noon-4 p.m., May through October.
The debate was over an application from New Gloucester-based Norumbega Cidery. Owner Noah Fralich told the council he wants to sell hard cider at the market to customers age 21 and older. Fralich said his cider’s alcohol level is just under 7 percent and comes in closed, 22-ounce bottles. He said sampling would not be allowed.
“I’m looking forward to and hoping to engage with Falmouth customers,” Fralich said.
The Legion is on private property, where zoning ordinances technically don’t permit a farmers market. Since the town leases parking spaces for the adjacent baseball fields, Town Manager Nathan Poore said, the town considered the parking lot an extension of public property that allows the market.
But alcoholic beverages and tobacco products are prohibited in parks and public land.
Two town officials also wrote memos to the council explaining their opposition to the sale of hard cider at the market. Police Chief Edward Tolen and Lucky D’Ascanio, the director of parks and community programs, both said their opposition is based on the proximity to areas where children play.
“In my opinion the language of the ordinance prohibiting alcoholic beverages on park and public lands should be sufficient to prohibit the sale of hard cider at the Farmers’ Market,” Tolen said.
Nonetheless, councilors were unanimous in their support of Norumbega Cidery. The issue they had was with zoning. Councilor Karen Farber said it was a “damned if you do, damned if you don’t” scenario, and it was “like being between a rock and a hard place.”
“We’re stretching this no matter how we interpret it,” she said.
Councilors agreed that if they could be assured Norumbega would physically be on private property and not in parking spaces leased by the town, they would not have a problem.
Councilor Ned Kitchell noted the market is only one day a week, and operates during hours when the fields typically aren’t used. He later added the ordinance doesn’t specify that the sale of alcohol is prohibited on public land, and he wanted to see it be made more accommodating.
“If it’s on private property, and the applicant chooses to sell (cider) on private property, what’s wrong with that?” Kitchell asked.
Councilor Caleb Hemphill said the ordinance seemed to be aimed at controlling the consumption of alcoholic beverages on public property, and not the sale of a closed product for “private, at-home consumption.”
Council Vice Chairman Russell Anderson said if Fralich sets up on the private property, “I don’t think we have the legal grounds to deny this.” He said “it comes back to, is this a good idea or a bad idea?” He called Norumbega a good applicant, and ultimately said it was not a bad idea.
Fralich will also have to obtain a signature from the Legion’s post commander or other official for permission to sell hard cider. Fralich obtained the sign-off in April 2015, but Poore asked for a more recent permit.
In other the business, the council:
• Approved the fiscal year 2017 municipal and school department budgets. Proposed total expenditures including the Cumberland County portion are nearly $48.5 million, and call for a 3.5 percent tax increase. A budget validation referendum for the school portion will be held June 14.
• Set the referendum question for the Route 100 redevelopment project. The referendum is June 14, and the project is expected to cost up to $11 million. Up to $4 million will come from the Maine Department of Transportation, $6.5 million will be borrowed, and the rest will come from a portion of current and projected fund balances in the West Falmouth Crossing Tax Increment Financing District.
American Legion Post 164 on 65 Depot Road will host the annual farmers market, which runs from May through October. After some discussion, Town Councilors agreed to allow a hard cider vendor to sell his products at the market.