MADISON — The developer behind a planned $10 million strawberry greenhouse project in the Madison Business Gateway said Monday night no timeline has been set for the project and “things are going well, but it’s a very, very slow process.”

“Everything changes so quickly, so I don’t want to give you an answer, then come back and say, ‘This is the answer this week,'” said Evan Coleman, who spoke on behalf of developer Northern Farms LLC at a Madison Board of Selectmen’s meeting and addressed questions from the board about the project timeline.

“We keep writing checks for things in the hopes it progresses along, but there are a million small things we have to do. That’s the most honest answer I can give you at this time.”

Madison selectmen voted in 2017 to support the project, and Selectman Jack Ducharme said they would like to see a more definitive answer about what is planned.

“The board issued support for this project, and at some point we have to show progress,” Ducharme said. “Yes, you took down some trees; that’s fine, but we’re kind of looking for some more meat on the bones in terms of when something will happen up there.”

In August, Madison Electric Works, which is a department of the town, also announced it was the recipient of a $310,000 grant from the Northern Border Regional Commission to help bring the strawberry greenhouse to two lots in the Madison Business Gateway.

Officials from Madison Electric said at the time the grant was applied for specifically to help bring the greenhouse to town, a move that was estimated to create 30 to 40 jobs and boost the local tax base.

But Coleman, who also helped bring a 5-megawatt solar farm to the business park through his company Clear Energy LLC, said Monday the greenhouse project is not set in stone.

“It’s a project we’re considering,” Coleman said. “We spent a lot of time developing it, and at this point no commitment has been made. We’re evaluating the feasibility and whether we want to make the investment.”

At the same time, during Monday’s board meeting, Coleman said Northern Farms is in discussions with a strawberry grower from Europe who recently visited Madison and is going through the immigration process.

He said the grower and his wife toured Backyard Farms, a commercial tomato greenhouse in Madison that employs about 250 people.

“They like Maine,” Coleman said, though he would not offer further details on who the grower might be. “They like Madison. They’re very big skiers, so it’s worked out well for them.”

He also said the company tested growing conditions for strawberries at a greenhouse in Yarmouth, which would be similar to what is planned in Madison, for a supermarket chain and was happy with the results.

Permits have been issued for the 14-acre site in the business park, and the land has been cleared of trees and stumps.

“Strawberries are not a thing a lot of people do,” Coleman said. “They’re probably one of the most challenging things to grow in a greenhouse. They’re not like tomatoes, which offer a high yield. The yield is low. So a lot of things are trial and error.”

However, he said he is interested in bringing a strawberry greenhouse to Madison because it’s not produce that is typically sourced locally. “It would be great to have locally sourced, clean strawberries coming from Maine,” Coleman said.

Selectmen Monday also voted to send proposed changes to the town’s animal ordinance to voters at Town Meeting after a public hearing on the ordinance drew no comments.

The changes, which apply to a new section of the ordinance regulating the keeping of animals that are not dogs or cats, would extend the amount of time a property owner has to respond to a violation from 10 days to 30 days.

Once issued a violation, property owners also would have the option of applying for a variance, or exception, to the ordinance’s stipulations on acreage or number of animals.

Rachel Ohm — 612-2368

[email protected]

Twitter: @rachel_ohm

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