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Farmers market signs leave selectmen in Salem torn

SALEM - Since the Salem Farmers Market first opened in July 2011, organizers for the Sunday morning event have been working hard to spread the word to their neighbors.

From the beginning, those efforts involved posting signs up around town, a practice event organizer Jane Lang is hoping will continue. Lang, who appeared before the Salem Board of Selectmen Monday night, said the signs are important for advertising an event that's brought a lot of good things to the local community. But while those signs have definitely caught the attention of Salem town officials, not all of that attention has been positive.

Selectman Pat Hargreaves said the problem with signs began last August when the board gave Lang permission to post some temporary signs around town advertising N.H. Eat Local Month.

Hargreaves said the town told Lang she could post temporary signs around town at several agreed-upon locations on the condition those signs would be displayed only on Friday through Sunday.

"But that's not what happened," he said. "I'd see signs pop up at the post office and they never came down. Then we saw them pop up at the intersection of Lawrence Road and Cluff Crossing Road. I'd drive by and see signs, and (I) said these aren't authorized."

The market, which is held every Sunday at Lake Street Garden Center in Salem, features a variety of New England-made products, including produce, flowers, dairy, maple syrup, baked goods, meats, honey, soaps and crafts, as well as live entertainment, workshops and cooking demonstrations.

"We bring great local foods into our community, I have people come up to me and tell me its the best thing to bring in the community," Lang told the board. "We're doing a lot of good things and would like to let other people know about it."

Selectman James Keller said the signs for the farmers market are considered commercial, though he noted that the board doesn't have a written ordinance specifying its policies on such signs.

"I don't think we should allow this, at least not in perpetuity," Selectman Michael Lyons said.

Following a two-hour discussion on the matter, the board agreed to allow Lang to hang signs in the town's right-of-way at four different locations on a temporary basis, through the end of June. By then, selectmen said, a yet-to-be drafted sign ordinance will be placed up for review, leaving the future of the farmers market's signs uncertain.

The signs will be at the intersections of Geremonty Drive and Main Street, Geremonty Drive and Veteran's Parkway, School Street/Lake Street and Millville Street, and by the Route 28 Hess Gas station.

A motion made by Keller to allow the signs to remain at those four locations through the end of September failed. Lyons voted against and Selectman Patrick Hargreaves abstained. Selectmen James Keller and Everett McBride, Jr., favoring the motion and Selectman Stephen Campbell was opposed.

"I'm struggling with this one," Lyons said. "Because I can make an argument that Walmart and Market Basket also serve the public good, what happens when they want to hang signs all over town?"

Hargreaves said the town needs a policy.

"Right now we're flying by the seat of our britches. But if we do a policy, it will have to cover all the bases - the signs posted on telephone poles, the yard sale signs," he said.

Several residents said they had no problem with seeing signs for the farmers market around town.

"I think all of this can speak to the fact that we all have to make a living," Kay Barretto said. "We're talking about helping people within our community. So I would hope we'd be able to help those people prosper."

Carol Stevens, who said she visits the market regularly and learned about its existence by spotting a sign, agreed.

"These people need to expand in order to thrive, and in order to do that, they do need to advertise," she said.

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