CAPE ELIZABETH — Fort Williams Park may soon have as many as eight art vendors under rules being considered by the Cape Elizabeth Town Council.
A final decision could be made next month, but councilors voted 6-0 Monday to amend the park’s regulations and allow the council to adopt rules about commercial activities in the park, including vending.
The council considered a set of specific vendor rules drawn up by the Fort Williams Advisory Commission, but chose 4-2 to table the vote until after visiting the park later this month and seeing the proposed sites vendors would occupy. The council is expected to take up the rules again in August.
There is an annual Labor Day art show at Fort Williams, a popular 90-acre seaside park that contains the 222-year-old Portland Head Light.
But the question of whether to formally permit daily art sales — and how to regulate art vendors without infringing on their right to expression — came up after a local couple recently started selling their art in the park, according to Councilor David Sherman Jr. Sherman said that, as he understands it, the sales are allowed under the First Amendment.
“It’s an attempt to balance whatever rights people have under the First Amendment and the council’s desire to maintain the fort in its current scenic state,” Sherman said. “If scores of vendors line up right by the lighthouse, there’s a feeling it won’t be as beautiful.”
One person who feels art vendors will detract from the park is Carol Graf, who visits Maine during the summer from Edgewater Park, N.J. She said art vendors would make the park feel “too commercial” even if the vendors were restricted to the area around a large unpaved parking lot to the west of the lighthouse, as the proposed rules state.
“I like to walk and enjoy the beauty of the park the way it is,” the retired teacher said.
Erin Hart-Smith, a baker who lives in Portland, said she doesn’t see any problem with vendors running for-profit stands in the park.
“It would be really nice,” she said. “I lived in Portland, Ore., before I moved here and there were lots of street vendors and food trucks and such a great variety. It really made the place a destination and it’s a great way for a vendor to start small and make a name for themselves.”
The advisory commission’s proposed rules explicitly allow the sale of items such as paintings or sculptures, as well as other “expressive matter” such as newspapers or books, and permit the acceptance of donations for performance art. The proposed rules say that only eight vendors would be allowed at a time on a first-come, first-served basis. Those eight vendors wouldn’t be allowed to attach anything to trees or trash cans, damage grass, block pathways or yell at passers-by.
There is no proposed fee for art vendors.
Food vendors have been able to sell in the park since 2011, but they must pay as much as $4,000 for a permit.
Karl Sutton, co-owner of the lobster-roll trailer Bite into Maine, one of the food trucks at the park, said that he and his wife, Sarah, have had a good experience working with the park advisory commission, and trust it to come up with fair regulations for the vendors.
“Especially since the park is so historic, I can see where there’s a concern to keep the atmosphere intact, but I have faith in how (the advisory commission) will implement it and do it correctly,” Sutton said.
As far as having to pay $4,000 to sell food in the park while art vendors would not have to pay under the current proposed rules, Sutton said he knows the First Amendment plays into it and does not mind the difference.
“I understand selling food is different than what those folks might be doing,” he said.
But Bill Thomson thinks if artists come into the park to sell wares, some of their profits should help maintain the park and lighthouse.
Thomson personalizes acrylic lighthouse paintings and sells them for $10 through the gift shop. He is adamant that he is not a vendor, but a special guest of the museum. The profits from the museum gift shop go toward maintaining the park.
“Whatever the town fathers are going to do, they can do it. It’s their property. But if people come here and sell their stuff, there should be some type of compensation paid to the town,” said Thomson, who has worked with the museum for 12 years. “The vendors should be tied into the gift shop, because you don’t want to compete with the gift shop.”
Karen Antonacci can be contacted at 791-6377 or at: