Mitchell Park a ‘no’ for farmers market

The Village Board appears poised to turn down two requests for use of Mitchell Park — one for a Saturday morning farmers market and the other from Sts. Anargyroi and Taxiarhis Greek Orthodox Church for a festival on July 16 and 17.

A vote is expected Monday night.

Mayor David Nyce said at a work session on Monday that both applicants should find other venues in the village.

“Mitchell Park is not the best venue for this,” Mr. Nyce said of the Greenport Farmers’ Market, whose organizers had proposed to run it in the park on Saturdays, May 28 through Oct. 15, from 8 a.m. to noon.

The mayor suggested that the farmers market operate in the village’s Adams Street parking lot just east of where Danny Latham operates a farm stand, which sits on private property across from the IGA supermarket. Although the mayor said Mr. Latham had no problem with the idea, the longtime farmer said he wanted to talk with Mr. Nyce about it for longer than the 15-second chat he said they’d had after an April 8 special Village Board meeting on the market proposal.

Mr. Latham said in a phone interview that he had spent 16 years building up his farm stand and had turned down an invitation from Greenport Farmers’ Market organizers to be one of their vendors.

Mr. Nyce said that, wherever the market ends up, he would ask Greenport Business Improvement District members to work with the organizers to vet potential vendors. The aim would be to work out any conflicts that might arise between vendors and established local merchants.

“We should be trying to help local farmers,” but it shouldn’t come at the cost of hurting merchants, Mr. Nyce said.

BID president Mike Acebo was unavailable for comment the mayor’s idea.

Trustee Chris Kempner said merchants had told her they “feared retribution” from two farmers market principals — Lara McNeil and Eileen Rich — if they didn’t contribute money to support the market. Ms. McNeil chairs the village Planning Board and Ms. Rich is a Planning Board member.

“I feel like that comment was unfounded and disrespectful to my volunteer service on the Planning Board,” Ms. McNeil commented in a phone interview.

Despite what she called her disappointment at not being able to use Mitchell Park, she said the farmers market concept was “important” and if moving it to another venue was what would take to get it up and running, she would cooperate.

“We certainly don’t want to cause any disruption in the village,” Ms. McNeil said.

The Rev. Gerasimos Ballas of the Greek church was less sanguine about not using Mitchell Park for his event. Pedestrian traffic downtown is important to the festival, he said. He added that he wouldn’t try to move the event back to church grounds near Steamboat Corner because he agreed with Trustee Mary Bess Phillips and others who raised questions about safety and noise at the church during last summer’s festival.

Among Mr. Nyce’s concerns was that if the board approved this festival, it would be difficult to say no to other church groups that might make similar requests for Mitchell Park.

“I’m a believer in separation of church and state,” the mayor said. He also said he didn’t want the park used for festivals every weekend.

Trustee Phillips commented, “I want to see them succeed, but once you let them in the park, it sets an example.”

The park wasn’t built for fundraising and commercial activities, Trustee David Murray said. “I don’t want to see any of this in the park,” he said.

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