SOUTH PORTLAND — Some progress is being made toward expanding the outdoor farmers market when it opens this spring.

But the essential element of the market – precisely where it will operate – remains unresolved.

A series of proposed ordinance changes that would allow more types of vendors, different kinds of locations, and advertising for the 2-year-old market received preliminary council support Monday night in a workshop at the Community Center.

Proposed zoning changes that would allow the market to operate on private property and and receive special exceptions to operate in a variety of zones were forwarded to the Planning Board for discussion on Feb. 12.

The zoning changes would allow farmers markets in residential zones if they are operated on city-owned land.

A proposed licensing change would expand the definition of allowable farmers markets participants to include “craft producers” and “services vendors,” and allow business licenses for vendors associated with a farmers market.

The new class of licenses will not exceed 25 percent of the farmers market licenses granted to vendors selling agricultural, horticultural or meat products at the markets.

City Manager Jim Gailey said he anticipates the council would have first readings of the ordinance changes in early March, after the Planning Board has weighed in on the zoning changes.

The proposed revisions pleased Caitlyn Jordan, the Cape Elizabeth farmer and town councilor who also presides over the South Portland Farmer’s Market Association.

But a recommendation by Gailey that the market be moved from its 2012 site, Hinckley Drive between Ocean Street and Cottage Road, was less well-received.

“The language changes are great. The downside is we really have nowhere to go now,” Jordan said.

Had it been possible last year to have the outdoor market on private property, she said, it could have been held in the Hannaford Bros. parking lot on Cottage Road.

Jordan said she contacted Hannaford Bros. officials about two weeks ago when she learned a market on private property might become viable. She said she has not received a reply.

She said the parking and space requirements for the outdoor market make finding an adequate location challenging.

“Who has that size private property with all the things you want?” Jordan said.

When it opened in 2011, the outdoor market was at Thomas Knight Park at the confluence of Waterman Drive and Ocean Street, below the Casco Bay Bridge. The Planning Board approved a shift to Hinckley Drive for 2012, but Gailey said the operation elicited complaints.

“The closure of one of the city’s cross streets connecting the Mill Creek commercial district became very problematic for those who visited the district,” Gailey said. “In addition, we have talked with businesses in the area and have found that though they are very supportive of the market, they also had concerns with the rerouting of traffic.”

Jordan said Knightville traffic problems last summer were more likely to be caused by the months of construction throughout the area as water mains, sewer lines and sidewalks were replaced. She said without the Hannaford property, her first choice is still Hinckley Drive.

“It’s a great spot,” she said. “The only problem for me personally is having to shut the road down. People can access the market from every angle.”

Councilor Linda Cohen’s question about using Mill Creek Park for the market drew light chuckles, because it has been discussed before. But the responses from Gailey and Mayor Tom Blake showed they have contrasting opinions on the matter.

With park renovations completed last fall, Gailey said he remains worried summer rains could soak the grass, leading to turf damage and mud when customers visit the market. 

Blake said he continues to believe the park could be a good market site. He also signaled that Hinckley Drive might not be out of the question when he told Jordan she could approach councilors at a future meeting if another market site is not found.

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

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