Despite some concerns over how a farmers market might cut into the profits of local businesses, Town Meeting voters on Wednesday passed the necessary zoning laws to allow just such a venture to open in Needham.
After completing business on the special Town Meeting warrant, voters picked up where they had left off on , diving back into Article 11, which had been tabled after some confusion over amendments proposed on Town Meeting floor.
Before continuing discussion, Town Moderator Michael Fee “cleaned up” the floor by asking members to vote down amendments that no longer had support before addressing the newest proposals.
Precinct C member Louise Miller reintroduced an amended version of the article with a few main changes. First, that farmers, bakers and other vendors, along with their representatives, be allowed to sell items that had been produced on their properties as well as items that had been produced elsewhere. And second, that the market be limited to areas with certain types of parking, such as municipal, public, religious or educational uses.
All of Miller’s recommendations were included in the final motion adopted by a two-thirds vote of Town Meeting.
Proponents of the original citizen’s petition article had already agreed with a suggestion Miller had made on May 4—striking the requirement that the market be run by a nonprofit organization—and had included it in their new recommendation Monday night.
Although some spoke against that change, such as Precinct I member Elaine Becker, who said she felt it was important that a nonprofit association run the market.
“In my mind, that is the antithesis of a farmers market, to have it sponsored by a corporation,” she said.
Becker also felt the bylaw was vague in regulating the sale of locally grown produce.
Town counsel David Tobin responded that attempting to limit where a vendor could come from was not really part of the Planning Board’s job and that setting this type of limit might violate interstate commerce laws.
Precinct B member William Doyle said he understood the benefits of a farmers market in terms of providing healthy, fresh food and encouraging a sense of community, but he questioned why the town would allow a venture that would set up more competition for local businesses.
“The one thing I don’t get—the one thing that’s sort of beyond comprehension—is why we would do this to our neighbors,” Doyle said. “We’ve got a business in town that’s been here for decades, and when I look at what they’re going to sell [at the farmers market], almost everything is in direct competition with Volante Farms.”
But Precinct H member John Comando pointed to businesses in other towns, such as a farm in Lexington that was located in the area of “four very successful farmers markets” but which appeared to be thriving and growing.
When one Town Meeting member asked for ’ official position on the farmers market, Selectman Jim Healy arose to answer, saying he had spoken to owners David and Al Volante.
“The Volantes’ position is that they do not want to get in the way of a farmers market if that’s what the Town Meeting wants to do. They also aren’t going to stand here and tell you there won’t be a financial impact,” Healy said. “They’re very reluctant to take a stand against something that seems so popular.”
Precinct G member Susan Abbott said she felt the Volantes had worked well with the farmers market organizers, and that both entities were part of a larger trend toward healthy living across the country.
Abbott said she felt both the local farm and a Needham market would encourage a “pride of place” among local residents, similar to the way the gold dome on the Town Hall did.
In the end, the measure passed with a two-thirds approval.
The annual Town Meeting will continue on Wednesday, May 11 at 7:30 p.m. at .