South Portland farmers market still a work in progress

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SOUTH PORTLAND — As city councilors concluded their first fall workshop on the future of the city’s farmers markets, Councilor Tom Blake assessed the progress made over the last two years.

“We are on a learning curve here,” he said. “It just happens to be a really long curve.”

The curve will continue through at least one more workshop as the outdoor market wraps up its season this week on Hinckley Drive and the indoor market at the former Hamlin School opens at Sawyer and Ocean streets.

Councilors also decided to meet with applicants to fill a School Board vacancy, and expressed near-unanimous support for Question 1 on the statewide November ballot.

In the workshop Monday, councilors grappled with where the outdoor market should be based and who should be allowed to sell goods and services.

Caitlin Jordan, the Cape Elizabeth town councilor who also serves as head of the South Portland Farmers Market Association, said the existing interpretation of the ordinance governing who is eligible to sell at the outdoor market is too narrow.

Market guidelines require vendors to have grown or processed at least 75 percent of a food or farm product. Councilors including Rosemarie De Angelis noted the governing ordinance is the same one used by the state in its definition, but Jordan argued applications are turned down by city Code Enforcement Officer Pat Doucette on a narrow reading of the phrase.

Jordan’s call for re-examining definitions of who can sell at the market was echoed by Lowell Street resident David Orbetan, who was not allowed to offer knife sharpening services this year.

Marianne Russo, owner of city-based Nellie’s Teas, said she has been allowed to sell at the indoor market and wants to be part of next year’s outdoor market.

“Maybe we can sit down and figure out why things aren’t processed,” Jordan said.

Mayor Patti Smith called the session “a launching pad for moving forward,” and said she is willing the let the market association have a larger say in determining the market location.

But Jordan and Town & Country Credit Union CEO David Libby disagreed on the merits of this year’s Hinckley Drive market.

Jordan said the stretch of Hinckley Drive bordering Mill Creek Park worked well, despite construction work in Knightville throughout the summer.

Libby said closing Hinckley Drive on Thursday afternoons caused problems for credit union customers on one of the busiest banking days of the week. Libby said he got at least 12 complaints from customers about a lack of access to the credit union, although it can be reached, as Jordan noted, from Thomas Street.

No location has been chosen for next year, but councilors did reach a consensus that the market should be on a hard surface, as opposed to inside Mill Creek Park, because of potential damage to sod if it rains on market days.

School Board vacancy

Councilors agreed to host a special meeting to consider six applicants to fill the School Board seat vacated when Jeffrey Selser resigned last month.

Selser resigned to coach seventh-grade soccer. He is barred by state law from coaching and simultaneously serving on the School Board.

The council agreed to hear presentations from Providence Avenue resident Jeffrey P. McDonald, Mitchell Road resident Roger Allen, Sawyer Street resident Pam Koonz Canarie, Elderberry Drive resident Mary House, Morse Street resident Tiffanie L. Bentley and former School Board Chairman Ralph C. Baxter Jr. of Simmons Road.

Councilors anticpate the presentations and questions for applicants will take at least 90 minutes and may not result in an immedaite appointment at the conclusion of the meeting. A date for the meeting was not selected.

Also, in a special meeting convened before the workshop, councilors voted 5-1 in favor of a resolution supporting state referendum Question 1, which would allow same-sex marriages. Councilor Al Livingston voted against the resolution.

“I don’t think it is our place to give views and try and influence other people,” Livingston said.

He suggested the referendum question would not have the same financial impact on the city as previous referendum questions that would have limited excise taxes and capped municipal spending, both of which failed in 2010. Councilors passed resolutions opposing those questions.

David Harry can be reached at 781-3661 ext. 110 or Follow him on Twitter: @DavidHarry8.

Portland City Hall reporter for The Forecaster. Baltimore native, lived in Maine since 1989. A journalist since 2005, covering much of Cumberland and York counties. I joined The Forecaster in 2012.