The following is Part Two of a transcript from the Dec. 10, 2013 Westford Board of Selectmen meeting.
For a list of segments of the transcript, click here.
7:50 p.m. – The board went back to the discussion on the Westford Farmers’ Market, with Peraner-Sweet saying that the discussion had been moved up to December to provide more deliberation time
Farmers’ Market organizer Gloria Gilbert called the previous year “status quo,” indicating that her team had worked hard with challenges over lawn concerns and storage, making great progress using church facilities with things like refrigeration and bathrooms.
She indicated that the meetings weren’t uneventful, just that things have become status quo.
Gilbert also indicated that the market had become less popular since other nearby towns now also have markets, copying Westford.
Going forward, Gilbert understood that some people liked the market and some don’t due to traffic and parking. While she was accepting of moving the location, she indicated there would be a risk that the market would not be successful if the location were moved.
She also asked if the market is moved that someone else take up the administration.
Gilbert then introduced volunteers from Westford Academy who helped with research on the Market.
They took count of how many cars were parked on Lincoln Street and how many pedestrians there were on the Common, saying that there is extra parking in the First Parish Church United parking lot on most days and that traffic and parking needs also dip during the heart of the summer.
Peraner-Sweet asked for a conclusion from the studies, with the students indicating that the pedestrians drop in the fall, but the parking then stays steady, and they did not believe that traffic was an issue at the market.
Peraner-Sweet asked if there was data from previous years, but that was not available.
Gilbert attempted to clarify, indicating that the First Parish Church United parking lot is underutilized. Lincoln Street is utilized, but never at 100 percent.
Wormell asked a question regarding averages in the study and Hazelton asked a question regarding the impact of first responders.
Capt. Chambers of the Police Department said he would ask a question regarding the traffic figures, but indicated that Wormell answered his question. Parsons said that the Police Departments’ concerns were not just parking but interaction between vehicles and pedestrians.
There were no accidents this year, but the Department is still concerned due to the amount of commuter traffic and pedestrian traffic heightening the risks, saying that crosswalks would not always be used and this year the town was just fortunate, with accidents in previous years.
Chambers also discussed the recent NMCOG study’s recommendation to move the market to a weekend date.
Hazelton asked if Lincoln Street was closed from 2 to 6 p.m. if that would make anything better, Parsons said no, saying that would just back up traffic to 495 and Route 110.
Chambers said that even when Lincoln Street is closed for the prom for an hour on a Saturday impacts traffic.
Lt. Parsons from the Fire Department agreed with Chambers’ assessments, saying they support the venue, but are concerned with safety for residents as well as their personnel heading to emergencies.
Persons indicated that there were two incidents when people got hurt, with the last one happening last year.
He indicated that the Fire Department wanted to work with the market, and understood that moving the day may harm the market, but asked if the Common was too difficult to manage during a weeknight with peak traffic.
Selectman Ross asked Captain Chambers if he had any data regarding accidents at rush hour not on Farmers’ Market days to see if it was the market or the Common.
Chambers was not comfortable answering off the top of his head, but he did not recall any incidents on non-market days.
Ross then also asked for specifics on the two accidents specified earlier.
Chambers said he couldn’t specify about the reports without having them in front of him. One was right in front of the Fire Department and the other was in front of Northern Bank, with the Northern Bank accident occurring with a person coming to the Market.
Town Manager Ross said there were five pedestrian accidents since she became Town Manager, three not near the Common.
Parks and Recreation Department director Pat Savage said that the market’s success has increased demand but said that Gilbert has been easy to work with toward addressing concerns.
While Savage understood that changing the day or location or time would harm the market, she said these concerns could be alleviated with additional information to the public, citing that this had been done by other markets.
Selectmen Ross asked charging the market a fee. Savage said that the market charged vendors a fee, but Gilbert indicated to her that they did not make a profit, although other groups that use town land are charged a fee, often a small one.
Hazelton asked Gilbert how many customers are regulars. Gilbert said she did not have exact data, but indicated that there was a regular following.
A colleague of Gilbert’s from Cold Spring Road came to the microphone on behalf of Gilbert to discuss his informal study of traffic on non-market days. He said that traffic moved faster down Boston Road by approximately two minutes on non-market days.
Wormell asked how many memberships were sold recently. Gilbert said she had not sold any recently, but they had approximately 20 members.
Wormell asked Gilbert about the income for Sustainable Westford, the parent organization for the market. Gilbert says that the market makes approximately $6,000 to $7,000 a year and that memberships are $800 a year.
Selectman Ross asked Gilbert what would be worse: moving the location or moving the date. Gilbert said it would be a split, and that she would be okay with moving the time or location if someone could fill in for her, as she had been told by vendors that many would not come back.
She then said that she’d prefer to go to a larger spot with more parking, but either way is alright and could be successful if someone else did the work.
Peraner-Sweet gave another option, asking if the hours could be from 11 a.m. to 3 p.m.
Gilbert said that possibility would lose many customers, although she reiterated her request that the current market continue until a new market elsewhere could be started.
Wormell asked who would administer the non-Common market. Gilbert said it would be whoever anyone could muster, but she had no answers, and that she was limited in her capacity to do any work and did not recommend anyone.
Wormell said this discussion was part of why she wants the board to reinvigorate the Agricultural Commission, asking if the market could be placed under a renewed Agricultural Commission like the Roudenbush Community Center was offered to be put under the Recreation Commission.
While Wormell said discussion was productive and could be taken offline, she said that public concerns were not going away.
Peraner-Sweet asked the audience for any concerns, nobody had any.
She said that tonight was just the beginning of the discussion on the market.
Wormell added that it was not up to the board to move the market, only whether it could be on the Common or not.
Peraner-Sweet said the board could make recommendations.
Gilbert said that farmers would need an answer on the future of the market by January, as they decide what markets they will go to by then. She also indicated that storage and bathroom issues needed to be decided early.
A volunteer for Sustainable Westford came up to the microphone saying that the market was an integral part of the community. As for how the market could be changed, if the time was changed to earlier in the day, Westford Academy volunteers would be difficult to recruit due to school hours.
Peraner-Sweet said the discussion would be continued at a later date.