The recent imbroglio over whether the Saranac Lake village board would let a second farmers market set up in Saranac Lake's Riverside Park (the issue was that this market had a baker, and there's a bakery across the street) is added proof that this is a small town.
By that we mean that general policies are often disrupted by casual inconsistency, or past practices, or who complained, or who made a request. It gets to where village officials forget what the policy was to begin with.
While we opposed Lake Flour Bakery owner Nancy Moriarty's argument in a previous editorial, her stance raised an important issue that others have since pointed out: The village should be more consistent in allowing commerce in village parks.
For instance, consider the case of food vendor Frank "Smokey" Whitelaw, who rents space at Lake Flour Bakery to sell barbecue.
"When I was preparing to open for the first time in 2008, I inquired with the village to see if I could buy a permit or pay a fee to set up in the village," Mr. Whitelaw wrote in a recent letter to the editor. "I was given a copy of the local ordinance that prohibits private business from operating on village property unless it's a nonprofit/not-for-profit enterprise. I was disappointed, but since the rules are rules I didn't squawk about it."
As a state trooper in his other job, Mr. Whitelaw is properly respectful of laws, but he was right to question this one in his letter: "Why are the rules different for the farmers market people? Why are they allowed to set up on village property? They're all private enterprise."
Yes, they are, even if the farmers market organization is a nonprofit group. And farmers aren't the only ones allowed to sell things in parks; the village lets Adirondack Lakes & Trails Outfitters use parks for its Demo Days, where people can try out and then buy canoes and kayaks.
These commercial uses of parks are generally good for residents, visitors and other businesses, but the rules have to be consistently applied. That's why village Trustee Allie Pelletieri abstained from an April 11 vote to let the second farmers market use Riverside Park. As he pointed out, the village board is already violating its own policy by allowing anyone at all to use that space.
Current village policy only allows commercial use of the village parks at Mount Pisgah and Lake Colby beach. Beyond that, nonprofit and special-event commercial use is only allowed in parks that are rated for "heavy use," but Riverside Park is listed for "low to moderate use."
"I think we should table this and get a committee together and change our policy," Mr. Pelletieri said.
The market was approved anyway, but the village really does need to change its park commerce rules. Village Manager John Sweeney told us Wednesday that other village officials agree the policy is due for an upgrade.
To help that process, we posed the question to the public in our Web poll last week: "Should commerce be allowed in village parks? Any commerce? All parks?" Here again are the results from the 431 votes:
21% - Yes, any commerce in all parks
5% - Yes, any commerce in some parks
13% - Yes, some commerce in all parks
35% - Yes, some commerce in some parks
23% - No
3% - Undecided.
True, this is an unscientific poll, but it's as accurate a gauge of public opinion as the village board is likely to get on this issue. About three-quarters of the voters seem to want some limitations on park commerce.
As village officials update park rules, we think consistency should be their first priority, simplicity their second. Permit fees should also be an important part of the deal; the village now charges $25 per day - very cheap - and the board often waives it. We suggest raising the daily fees, with one amount for commercial use and a lower figure for true nonprofit use. That should satisfy some merchants' complaint that these competitors aren't paying property taxes.
We'd fully support more vendors in more village parks as long as they are part of the village tax base and elected leaders maintain control through a permit process.