BRUNSWICK — The Brunswick Farmers Market will move to the sidewalks around and on the town mall for one year, according to a plan approved unanimously by the town council. The town also will build a sidewalk extension that could cost as much as $35,000. 

The new plan, the result of months of work and hours of public input, will place the farmers market vendors along the bisecting sidewalks across the town mall and along the intended sidewalk extension stretching from Park Row up to Fitch Place. According to Public Works Director Jay Astle, the extension could cost up to $35,000, but some of the work could be done within the department, reducing the cost. 

Some councilors balked at the idea of installing a permanent, expensive sidewalk for what is intended to be a one-year solution, but town staff believe the sidewalk will have long-term safety benefits beyond use by the farmers market. 

“I think the new sidewalk would be a big benefit, especially for the music on the mall in the summer,” Councilor Kathy Wilson said. “More than just the farmers market, I would like to see that even if this (new plan) wasn’t going to happen.” 

Farmers market vendors will park in 12 designated parking spaces on Park Row, with two box trucks and one van still parking on the mall adjacent to their displays. This, according to a memo from Assistant Town Manager Ryan Leighton, was needed to limit the number of tents, provide quicker set up and take down for vendors and decrease the number of on-street parking spaces occupied by the market. There will be a public hearing Feb. 18 on the ordinance change needed to allow extended parking (via permits) for vendors and food trucks. 

The decision will allow the mall’s suffering grass to be resodded and alleviate some of the pressure on the trees’ root systems by keeping most of the market trucks off the mall and keeping pedestrians primarily on the sidewalks.  Work should be completed before the market’s summer season. 

The solution, for now, is fair, councilor Christopher Watkinson said, and “mitigates the areas of potential damage to the mall as best we can,” but “a larger vision is going to be needed for a long term solution.” 

Town officials will reevaluate the situation in the fall and see if they can find a better location that would keep the market downtown, perhaps the soon-to-be-former site of the Brunswick Central Fire Station. 

The health and use of the mall was identified as a problem more than 20 years ago, Town Manager John Eldridge told the council Monday. “If this was so easy to solve, it would have been solved 20 years ago.” 

The Brunswick Mall has become a hotspot over the past few years and is now the host of over 60 events throughout the year. While that use may be good for businesses and the community, it comes at a cost. The ground is covered in bare patches of compacted earth. The weight of farmers market trucks added to the thousands of people walking on the space is adding pressure to the root systems of the trees lining the area, and they are dying as a result. 

Town Councilor Steve Walker said Monday that while he would vote for the option as a temporary solution, “I don’t think the mall is any place for vehicles.”

“I hope the take-home message here is the importance of public space downtown and the lack of public space downtown,” he said. 

To help improve and protect the space that all parties agreed was a vital part of the community, the Farmers Market Site Investigation Workgroup, made up of farmers, town staff and community members initially presented the “park row option,” which would move the vendors back along Park Row and require that the street become one-way, running North to South with pedestrian barricades across behind the vendors. More than 24 alternative locations were considered. 

At a public hearing last month, the council decided not to go with the proposed option due to concerns over the limited parking, lack of space for vendors and the impact on businesses along park row, and instead chose to explore placing the market along the sidewalks.  

To help cover the associated costs, the council also voted Monday to increase the farmers market fee to $5,000 per year, an increase from the previous $3,500, but not nearly so steep as the $13,500 proposed in the park row plan. 

The market also intends to pursue private donations to help the rehabilitation of the portion of the mall it is currently using. 

Overall the plan is “a temporary and reasonable” solution, councilor Dave Watson said. 

“Everyone has worked very long and hard,” Farrell said, calling the decision a compromise. “We can’t lose sight of a long term more permanent solution… It’s going to be an ongoing discussion.” 

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