After spending the past five months revising a policy that stipulates the use of public parcels for special events, selectmen finally settled on a set of guidelines that will be used for applicants moving forward.
Unlike previous iterations, the policy is vague as to how it would impact the Falmouth Farmers Market, and its organizers asked the board at its meeting on Monday evening for clarification on what exactly it would mean for their weekly event at Margaret (Peg) E. Noonan Park on Main Street.
“The original policy singled out the farmers market,” said Patricia S. Gadsby, president of the market’s board of directors, noting that it specifically mentioned the impact to Peg Noonan Park as one of the items the board would consider in approving special events.
The policy approved this week went in an entirely opposite direction, only focusing on the months of July and August and the impact an event has on parking and traffic congestion during that time.
Ms. Gadsby pointed out that it leaves the policy “open to interpretation,” before she asked how this affects the farmers market, “because the way it was worded beforehand it was clear, but now we have no idea.”
It is the location. It is a ripple effect of the farmers market being at Peg Noonan Park.
Selectman Rebecca Moffitt gave a hint as to how the policy may impact the farmer’s market, which has been held every Thursday at Peg Noonan Park from the spring to the fall, since first created in 2008.
In recent years members of the Falmouth Village Association have raised concerns about the market’s impact on traffic and parking, leading to selectmen shifting the hours of the event from noon to 6 PM to 11 AM to 5 PM last year.
With the recent discussions on the special events policy, some have wondered whether selectmen have been using it as an opportunity to relocate the market elsewhere. And selectmen have even brought up the notion of alternative locations for the event, including the exterior of the Gus Canty Community Center and Shore Street Extension as two examples.
This week Ms. Moffitt said the issue is not that people are against the market, “it is the location. It is a ripple effect of the farmers market being at Peg Noonan Park. You do not come through town on Thursdays.”
Possible Move to Gus Canty
She started to say that the market might be held in the area in front of Gus Canty Community Center in July and August, but she was cut off by Chairman Brent V.W. Putnam who said, “I want to focus on the policy and not on the farmers market.”
In regard to the policy, Katherine A. Mahoney, manager of the farmers market, asked that the board not solely base their decision to permit an event on traffic and impacts on parking. She noted with the market that there are tangible benefits, including bringing people to the downtown area, that it brings to Falmouth, and these should be factored in as well.
Mr. Putnam agreed with Ms. Mahoney, later making a motion to remove the impacts on parking and traffic congestion as considerations on whether to approve an event.
“To leave out parking and traffic in my mind is mysterious,” Selectman Mary (Pat) Flynn said.
“That is the only thing in the policy,” Selectman Kevin E. Murphy replied, arguing that there would essentially be no need for the board to even approve the policy.
Mr. Putnam disagreed, noting that the board never had a document that provided it with guidelines on how to approve requests for special events.
As part of the policy, the board would seek a recommendation from the town manager’s office, who would seek input from applicable departments that would include, among others, the police department, fire department, health department, department of public works, the beach department and the recreation department.
While some residents raised concerns that this would not be transparent, the board noted that they would still have final approval and the public would still be able to weigh in on these permit requests.
Ultimately, the board approved the new policy and, despite Mr. Putnam’s request, kept traffic and parking as items that would factor into whether to approve an event in July and August. Before doing so, Selectman Kevin E. Murphy reminded the public why this policy was needed, which is that the town was saturated with so many events last summer that at points it created gridlock.