SALEM — People looking for the Salem Farmers Market aren’t going to get any guidance from signs in town rights of way.
Selectmen won’t budge on the town’s sign ban.
Despite pleas from 11 market supporters, the board voted, 4-1, on Monday to reject a request to place signs in public rights of way around town. Patrick Hargreaves was the only selectman to support the request.
Market organizer Jane Lang asked selectmen for permission to place signs at six locations around town to tell the public how to find the market, held Sundays at the Lake Street Garden Center.
But it was market organizers’ failure to remove temporary signs as directed in 2012 that led to selectmen adopting the ban earlier this year.
“I have had calls from people and they say, ‘Just put the signs up,’” Lang told selectmen. “But I want to do this right.”
Lang said not being allowed to post signs has hurt business at the farmers market.
“I just want you to know there was a definite decline in attendance,” she said. “It is important that we get these signs up on the day of the market.”
Selectmen have said they were tired of seeing signs from various groups posted on town property, especially busy intersections where they posed a distraction to drivers. Market organizers had previously been allowed to post signs as long as they were taken down on Sunday afternoons.
Lang’s request comes only a month after selectmen denied SalemFest organizers permission to post several dozen signs for the annual event in rights of way. Organizer Betty Gay said the group had been able to post its signs for years without any problems.
The new town ordinance only allows signs to be placed on private property and it costs $10 for each one.
Some selectmen, including Chairman Everett McBride Jr., said he would be willing to write an ordinance to help nonprofit organizations, but couldn’t support the market’s request.
“I think we can craft something, but I can’t let you put signs in the right of way,” he said.
McBride said he also couldn’t support the request because the farmers market is not a nonprofit organization. Lang said they have applied for nonprofit status and are awaiting a decision.
“You moved from being a community event to really being an enterprise,” Selectman Michael Lyons said. “I don’t like issues that tear the community apart, even though you stand on principle.”
Selectmen Stephen Campbell and James Keller were concerned about setting a bad precedent, forcing selectmen to grant all sign requests.
“I feel if we grant this tonight, we would be setting policy without knowing all the implications,” Campbell said.
Hargreaves said they should grant the request because the ordinance allows selectmen to do so if it would benefit the public.
“This is a benefit to the town of Salem and those surrounding areas,” he said. “It is not an enterprise where people are making millions and millions and millions of dollars.”
Many of the residents who spoke in support of the farmers market said it’s a valuable source of healthy, homegrown fruits and vegetables.
Some said during the nearly hour-long public hearing they would not have been able to find the event if not for signs, including Judy Howard of Derry.
“I am one of the people here who started going to the market because I saw the signs,” she said. “I would ask you to support this from a public benefit point of view.”
Vendor Eunice Miller said a lack of signs hurt her chocolate business.
“Not having the signs up had a very negative impact on our business,” she said.
In other business Monday, selectmen discussed the town’s revenues and default budget for 2014 and reviewed its water master plan and a water audit.
Selectmen also agreed to use town impact fees to purchase and assemble skate park equipment being purchased from Windham.