2013-03-22 / Front Page

Farmers market saga continues

By Jack Flagler
Staff Writer

The South Portland City Council will move forward to return the city’s farmers market to Hinckley Drive, but the return will require planning board approval before councilors can hold an official vote. (File photo) The South Portland City Council will move forward to return the city’s farmers market to Hinckley Drive, but the return will require planning board approval before councilors can hold an official vote. (File photo) SOUTH PORTLAND — The South Portland City Council informally reached a consensus to allow the city’s summer farmers market to return to Hinckley Drive next year.

The decision follows the wishes of a number of residents who spoke to the council at a special workshop on Monday, March 18, but it will go against a recommendation from city staff to move the location to a spot that would not require a road closure when the market is in operation.

The planning board will need to approve the location before the council can hold an official vote.

The market has been followed by controversy and disagreement everywhere it’s moved since it started in South Portland in 2011. After a rainy and disappointing first season in Thomas Knight Park, the market moved to Hinckley Drive last year in an effort to become more visible to vehicle traffic passing through downtown.

Market manager Caitlin Jordan was happy with the overall results of the second season. She said customers visiting on Thursday afternoons provided consistently positive feedback, despite heavy construction through summer to separate underground storm drainage lines disrupting activity in the Knightville area.

Jordan said this year the market needs to stay where it is to provide vendors and customers with stability and give the market a chance to succeed without the large construction vehicles, disrupted streets and flaggers scattered around the area as they were last year.

CouncilorsAlan Livingston, Michael Pock, Melissa Linscott and Mayor Tom Blake gave their support to return the market to Hinckley Drive next year, giving the council the majority it needs to make the decision.

“I think we owe it to them to give them one more year on Hinckley,” Livingston said. “My real gut feeling is we never gave them the opportunity they should have had.”

However, all seven councilors had questions about how to improve the market and establish a sense of permanence. Most of those questions centered around a need for more data on where customers are coming from, what they’re buying, and what their preferences are.

“I’m trying to look at it as a small business owner might,” said Councilor Patti Smith. “I’m committed. I want it to happen. I want more data to make good decisions with it.”

City Manager Jim Gailey presented the council with a position paper opposing the renewed closure of Hinckley Drive with comments from six city staff members attached.

“Closing a road,particularly in the epicenter of the city’s business district, was problematic,” Gailey said at the workshop.

Tex Haeuser, the city’s director of planning and development, said in his written comments he retimed the traffic signals at Broadway and Ocean Street last year during the market times “only semisuccessfully,” and traffic still backed up in the area.

Fire Chief Kevin Guimond called the road closure “less than ideal,” and Police Chief Ed Googins said backed up traffic may hinder emergency response times in the area.

Hinckley Drive is a short stretch of road that runs alongside Mill Creek Park and connects Cottage Road to Ocean Street in Knightville.

While staff recommended a change, the handful of residents gathered at the workshop unanimously supported Jordan’s position to locate the farmers market for another year on Hinckley Drive.

South Portland resident Attila Delisle described his visits to the farmers market with his wife and son last year as a “magical summer.”

“It was really different to interact with the people making the food. I felt better about myself. I felt better about South Portland, and I felt better about paying taxes,” Delisle said.

Brett Price, a student at Southern Maine Community College who studied sustainable agriculture, said the city could use the farmers market as a way to show off the recent improvements to Mill Creek Park.

“I think you guys did a great job on the park. I can’t think of a better way to advertise it to have a farmers market next to it. The two can be synergistic,” Price said.

Before the council can hold an official vote on the street closure, the matter will need to go before the city’s planning board to receive a special one-year exception. The council chose to implement zoning changes earlier Monday evening to allow planning board review of any proposed location.

Haeuser, the planning and development director, said the planning board may be able to review the farmers market issue at its next meeting Tuesday, April 9, depending on how many other items are on the agenda.

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