Photo: Hal Shubin (left) and Suzanne Johannet of the Belmont Food Collaborative before the Belmont Board of Selectmen.
What a difference two weeks can make.
The last time the leadership of the Belmont Food Collaborative – the group that runs the Belmont Farmers Market – was before the Board of Selectmen on Jan. 22, it was a slightly frosty reception as it comes to secure the board’s OK to bring the market back to Belmont Center for a 13th season.
Suzanne Johannet, collaborative’s president, and Hal Shubin, the chairman of the farmers market, were seated next to Kevin Foley, manager of Locatelli Properties and landlord of many businesses along Leonard Street in Belmont Center. For the second year, Foley came to the board to bring up a continuing sore point of the Farmers Market taking nearly 20 parking spaces in the rear of the Claflin Street Municipal Parking Lot on what he describes as “one of our busiest days of the week.”
“Before we talk where and when the Farmers Market is located, that we look at this issue carefully each year and look at parking demand and adjust accordingly,” said Foley at the January meeting. In the past, Foley suggested either moving the market to another location away from the center or changing the markets’ operation times and the day it takes place such as Monday, noting that several new businesses have opened in the center with a new restaurant scheduled to arrive this summer.
For the Collaborative, Foley’s continued criticism of the markets’ use of the public lot was baffling. “What do you want, Kevin?” said Johannet, saying that Market customers bring business to his tenants, specifically during the summer when business drags.
While open to the market returning for its second decade at the site, the Selectmen were “frustrated,” according to member Mark Paolillo, that long-standing agreement for the collaborative and Locatelli to sit down at a meeting “discuss” the parking issue had not taken place for well over a year. Due to the dispute, the Selectmen delayed acting on granting the Collaborative the right to set up shop in the parking lot “until you get together as was promised,” said Paolillo.
Fast forward to Monday, Feb. 5 and the much warmer encounter between the board and collaborative.
Working with new Town Administrator Patrice Garvin, the Collaborative met with Foley and representatives from the Belmont Center Business Association and as Johannet told the board, it appears the Farmers Market was a lesser concern to Foley than the overriding worry of providing an adequate number of “core parking spaces” for patrons of the center’s retail operators.
Johannet said Foley had been using the market “as a football” to express his frustrations with the town over the broader issue of parking supply and demand.
Garvin said Foley would like the town to create some “reprieve” for the employees to take pressure off of shoppers and those eating at the center’s restaurants. In an effort to help the business community, the town and market will continue to monitor parking levels and hold ongoing discussions with all sides, said Garvin.
Despite Foley’s protestations, the Selectmen were solidly in the market’s corner. “The town owns the parking lot, not Kevin Foley,” said Selectmen Chair Jim Williams. In the end, the board voted unanimously to allow the Belmont Farmers Market to use the 19 spaces each Thursday, 2 p.m. to 6:30 p.m. (6 p.m. in September and October) from June 7 to Oct. 26 to bring fresh produce and locally made goods to residents, to the applause of supporters in the audience.
According to Shubin, the collaborative is reviewing options that would allow the market to avoid being caught between the parking needs of businesses and the town, which could include asking for a multi-year approval.
“We can now get excited about our 13th year,” said Johannet.