SOUTH PORTLAND — After considerable discussion and several amendments, the City Council gave initial approval for a flea market on Buttonwood Street.
The proposal, which would establish licensing requirements for flea market operators and vendors, was approved after residents who live near the proposed site spoke against allowing the use in the vacant building at the corner of Buttonwood Street and Broadway.
Residents are concerned about the effect the flea market, which under the current proposal could be open summer weekends from 8 a.m. to 6 p.m., would have on their quality of life. The hours include set-up and tear-down for vendors.
“Sunday is still a day of rest at my house,” Buttonwood Street resident Jane Berry Dean said. “I don’t want to listen to people getting in and out of their cars all day.”
Residents were also concerned about the safety of people using the Greenbelt Walkway, which crosses the dead-end street, since many drivers cross that intersection to turn around.
The flea market proposal came at the request of Louis Maietta, who owns the former Yerxa’s Lawn and Garden building. Maietta originally planned on indoor and outdoor tables at the site, but backed off the request for outdoor tables after facing stiff opposition from the council and neighbors.
Councilors and residents said outdoor tables would make the neighborhood look like a junkyard. But Maietta said his vision for the site is an upscale flea market.
“I’m not going to let my building turn into a junk yard,” he said. “I take great pride in the buildings I own.”
Maietta, however, was not thrilled with attempts to restrict the hours of operation, which were whittled down by the council.
The original proposal sought to allow the flea market to be open from 6 a.m. to 6 p.m. City officials shifted the opening to 7 a.m., and the council, encouraged by residents, trimmed the hours even further.
“It’s getting to the point where this is getting too complicated to open,” said Maietta, indicating that an earlier start and finish would be best for the vendors and shoppers. “If we get into cutting the hours back, I’m going to lose people.”
Buttonwood resident Rosemarie DeAngelis, a former city councilor, wondered why neighbors were not notified about the flea market plan and why the council seemed in such a hurry to pass the proposal. DeAngelis said the council should take its time and address flea markets within the zoning ordinance, which would bring residents into the process and weigh the businesses on a citywide scale.
“We have great ideas, but we also have great concerns.” DeAngelis said. “Once we open the door, we have little power to limiting additions and changes, as it’s the purview of the council seated at that time.”
Resident Barry Brown accused the council of neglecting his Buttonwood neighborhood, which consists of four residences just off Broadway.
City Attorney Sally Daggett said Maietta could have simply opened a flea market at the location, which is zoned both commercial and limited business, with up to 500 square feet of outdoor sales. By creating a licensing procedure, the city could have more control over who is selling products at the market, while also generating a new revenue stream.
“Quite frankly, if Mr. Maietta hadn’t come forward and raised this issue, this use could have gone in without a permit and approval of the city,” Daggett said.
The proposal would require the flea market operator, in this case Maietta, to pay an annual licensing fee of $75. Flea market vendors would have to pay a $25 fee for an annual permit. People who are already licensed as second-hand dealers in the city would be exempt.
No unlicensed food sales would be allowed at the flea market and sales of adult items and drug paraphernalia would be prohibited. Councilors originally wanted to ban the sale of firearms, but that falls under the state’s purview.
The flea market operator will bear the responsibility to ensure the business does not interfere with public safety. The operator would be required to hire a traffic cop if the business creates too much congestion on city streets.
Although officials believe there is adequate parking on site for the flea market, City Manager Jim Gailey said he would talk to the police chief about posting signs to restrict on-street parking in the small neighborhood.
The council will take a final vote on the proposal on Wednesday, Jan. 21.