AUGUSTA — The Farmers’ Market at Mill Park is looking at making a winter home in a former church on State Street.

However, the building, the former Elim Christian Fellowship, at 70 State St., isn’t zoned for retail business, so a move there would require a zone change, which city councilors are scheduled to discuss Thursday.

Last winter the farmers’ market, after the temperature dropped too low for it to remain at its regular home under the pavilion at Mill Park, moved into MaineGeneral Maine General Center, in the dining area.

Volunteers and vendors with the market said while the hospital was gracious in providing the market with a space last winter, they really want to remain in or near downtown so the market remains accessible to its growing customer base there.

“We want to stay downtown, or as close as possible,” said farmer Kelby Young, of Olde Haven Farm in Chelsea, liaison between the farmers’ market and the Augusta Downtown Alliance. “The market this year saw like a 110 percent increase in traffic. We really gained a lot of traction. We’re hoping we can keep some of that steam through the winter season by staying close to downtown.”

The former Elim church is up a steep hill but within about 1,000 feet of downtown Water Street, and about a half-mile from Mill Park.

The building is owned by downtown developer Richard Parkhurst, whom farmers’ market officials said is open to leasing space there to the farmers’ market, which now operates one day a week, on Tuesdays.

But the spot at the corner of State and Oak streets is in the BP, or Business Professional, district, where most retail businesses aren’t allowed as the primary use of a property. The only retail operations allowed in that zone, according to a city land use chart, are medical sales and pharmacies, which are allowed only as conditional uses, and therefore subject to a higher level of review than allowed uses would be.

Matt Nazar, the city’s development director, said if city councilors are interested in allowing the farmers’ market to operate there, while still limiting other retail uses in the zone, “the rezoning could be crafted as a very narrowly tailored contract zone that only allows exactly what the farmer’s market needs for their operation,” he said in a memo to William Bridgeo, city manager.

Nazar said if councilors are interested in that idea moving forward, it would have to be reviewed by the Planning Board for a recommendation. He said the farmers’ market wants to be open in its new space by the end of November, so the rezoning would have to move through the Planning Board process and return to the council for a vote as fast as possible.

Young said in case the church property doesn’t work out as a winter home for the market, the market also is pursuing options for space on Water Street.

Leif Dahlin, the city’s community services director, said there has been a winter market nearly every year the farmers’ market has been in Augusta. He said for years vendors “toughed it out” at Mill Park with only the wall-less pavilion for shelter. The market also made a winter home for at least one season at Lisa’s Legit Burritos, downtown, before moving last year to MaineGeneral, which also provides funding for the farmers’ market.

Young said the former church could be a good location, within a reasonable distance from downtown and regular customers who live in that area and don’t have transportation, and on the edge of the large west side residential neighborhood.

He said it has a kitchen, and at least one vendor has expressed interest in making pizzas in the kitchen to sell during the market’s winter hours, which, last year, were Tuesdays from noon to 5 p.m.

Nazar noted parking at the site, which has only a small driveway, is another significant problem that would need to be solved, but the market might be able to address that by reaching an agreement with a nearby neighbor.

Young said parking is a hurdle his group still needs to clear. He said the market would not use the adjacent Lithgow Public Library parking lot because that is often already full.

In recent years the former church building was used as work space for the construction firm that expanded and renovated Lithgow and rehearsal space for a new youth theater troupe.

The market’s summer hours, according to its website, are 2 p.m. to 6 p.m.

Young said some farmers are able to produce goods year-round and the winter market could have vendors with meat, salad greens, kale, broccoli, squash, carrots, radishes and other crops and items.

The councilors meet at 6:30 p.m. Thursday in the council chamber at Augusta City Center.

Councilors are also scheduled to discuss the presentation a Spirit of America Volunteer of the Year Award to Robert MacDougall, chairman of the Augusta Age-Friendly Committee; an action plan from the Augusta Age-Friendly Committee; and setting new General Assistance maximum levels.

Keith Edwards — 621-5647

[email protected]

Twitter: @kedwardskj

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