AUGUSTA — Farmers who sell their goods at the Farmers’ Market at Mill Park hope to sow some seeds of support in their regular customers whom they hope will help convince city officials to make a zoning change to allow the market to move to a vacant former church for the winter.

The building where organizers of the farmers market hope to move for the winter, the former Elim Christian Fellowship church, at 70 State St., is in a zone where retail businesses are not allowed, so a move there would require a zone change.

City councilors agreed to send the issue to the Planning Board for a recommendation on whether zoning changes should be made to allow the move. The board is scheduled to take up the matter Tuesday, which is the same day of the week the market is open.

So vendors at the market plan, Tuesday, to encourage shoppers there to also attend the Planning Board meeting that night, not necessarily to testify, but more as a show of support.

To help illustrate the level of support, vendors also plan to hand out buttons to customers, or anyone else attending the meeting, which say “I (heart) My Farmers’ Market: Farmers’ Market at Mill Park.”

They ordered about a 100 of them, which were paid for by vendors who sell at the market.

“We just wanted something that people could do so they could step into the Planning Board meeting and, without stepping up and talking, have a way to show their support for the farmers market,” said Kelby Young, of Olde Haven Farm in Chelsea, who serves as a liaison between the farmers market and the Augusta Downtown Alliance, which partners with the market. “We’re encouraging everyone to come and if they’re going, we’ll give them a button. It’s just the presence. If we can get 30 or 50 volunteers, farmers, or just people who support the market, to show up to a planning meeting, I think that would be an overwhelming show of support that the community approves of the move.”

The market does not have a place to go for the winter season yet, and its organizers want to be in a winter home by the end of November. Young said they want to open at the new site for the first Tuesday after Thanksgiving.

Young said he considers the former church to be a potential long-term fit as a winter home for the market, especially because it is near the market’s summer location and downtown Augusta, where it has a loyal customer base, and on the edge of the large west side neighborhood.

During the summer the market is located under the pavilion at the city’s Mill Park, on the edge of downtown. For the last few winters, it has moved indoors at various locations in the city so vendors and shoppers could be inside, out of the elements.

Young said having a winter market helps keep farmers busy and provides an economic boost. And he said this particular location would also have the added benefit of doing something productive with a vacant church that, otherwise, is sitting there being used for nothing.

Last winter the market moved into MaineGeneral Medical Center, in the hospital’s dining area.

Volunteers and vendors with the market said while they appreciated the hospital allowing the farmers market to be there, they really want to remain in or near downtown so the market remains accessible to its growing customer base there.

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

The building is owned by downtown developer Richard Parkhurst, who said he would allow the market to use the space for the winter rent-free.

Parkhurst said the city needs to consider changing zoning rules for the area or risk the building, and others like it, deteriorating if new uses aren’t allowed to take place in them.

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 are subject to a higher level of review.

The proposal going to the Planning Board for a recommendation, at their 7 p.m. Tuesday meeting in council chambers at Augusta City Center, is to create a contract zone specifically allowing a farmers market at that site.

Last year residents of the nearby west side neighborhood, prompted by the St. Mark’s church property being put up for sale and concerns that it could become a homeless shelter, said they were worried the neighborhood could be harmed, as the area increasingly became more developed with multi-unit housing, group homes, and other uses besides single-family residences.

The building is only used for storage now, but in recent years the former church building was used as work space for the construction firm that expanded and renovated Lithgow Public Library and rehearsal space for a youth theater troupe.

Market organizers are moving ahead with some fundraising to make improvements needed if the market is to open at the old church, including adding a ramp to improve accessibility, putting up some new drywall, and painting.

Young said their goal is to raise about $5,000 for the work. Donations can be made at the Farmers’ Market at Mill Park, or mailed to the Augusta Downtown Alliance, to the attention of the Farmers’ Market at Mill Park, at P.O. Box 2066, in Augusta, 04338.

They also plan a community work day to help make the building ready for the market, with volunteers welcome, from 9 a.m. to 2 p.m. Thursday.

Keith Edwards — 621-5647

[email protected]

Twitter: @kedwardskj

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