(Editor's note: This corrects inaccurate information reported in the original.)

WESTFORD --- Officials and community volunteers clashed over the Farmers' Market Tuesday night, debating permitting fees, the number of vendors allowed and time changes to the town's summer and fall staple.

Selectmen unanimously agreed to limit the number of vendors on site at the market from a maximum of 25 to 19 to ease traffic woes, and will consider a $500 fee for wear and tear to the common.

The community organization Sustainable Westford launched the farmers' market 8 years ago. It's held every Tuesday from mid-June to mid-October on the common. This year, shortly after the Northern Middlesex Council of Governments called attention to traffic issues surrounding it in a town study, town officials questioned congestion surrounding the event.

Selectmen decided not to move forward with NMCOG recommendations a few months ago, which included a suggestion to move the market to the weekends to ease traffic. Officials said Tuesday the market has grown "significantly" and changes have to be considered to accommodate that.

Sustainable Westford founder Gloria Gilbert said she whole-heartedly disagreed the market has grown and is so large it affects the nearby roads. The market runs from 2:30 p.m. to 6:30 p.m. on Tuesdays, which she said is a naturally busy time for commuters.

"I believe the market provides a very positive impact on the community for many reasons. The market is small, successful community gathering that adds life and vibrancy to Westford," she wrote in an email to selectmen. "...If you take away, piece by piece, eventually no one will come."

School Committee member Angela Harkness raised the subject during the public-comment period in a crowded room of about 30 residents as to why a deal was brokered behind closed doors previously with Sustainable Westford without the community being able to weigh in. Selectmen Chairwoman Andrea Peraner-Sweet said Gilbert agreed to hold private meetings between the board and fire and police department officials.

"What we're ultimately trying to do is balance the economics of the Farmers' Market with the wear and tear, the maintenance of the common, the town's interest, traffic interest and all of that," Peraner-Sweet added, "and come up with something that everybody can live with and that everybody can be comfortable with."

Harkness said if the market is something the town hopes will continue, they have to support it.

"We're not talking about a tremendously profitable thing here," she said. "This is a shoe-string operation. ... And historically, this is the sort of way the common was used a long, long, long time ago."

Selectman Kelly Ross said he was concerned about the $500 fee and asked his colleagues to re-examine the town's policy regarding user fees.

"I'm a little uncomfortable just putting a $500 fee out there without having some kind of discussion with what the overall policy is," he said.

Gilbert said her group will turn to donations if it must pay the $500 in August; the space was previously free.

Several residents came to the microphone to sound their support for the market. Market volunteer Mitchell Holman, a Westford Academy student, argued against selectmen's wish to end certain children's activities at 4:30 p.m., rather than 5 p.m. or 5:30 p.m. Selectmen ultimately ruled against changing those times, shortly after Holman said that extra half hour allows parents time to get down to the common. Board of Health Chairman Zac Cataldo also spoke in favor of the market, saying traffic coming from it is merely a "perceived problem."

Westford Police Capt. Mark Chambers argued against Gilbert's request for a change in times and vendor numbers, stating officials already discussed and agreed to these changes. He stressed the market presents problems in the town center.

"This meeting took place more than a month ago," Chambers added.

Gilbert said following the meeting she "naively" thought the public would have a chance to weigh in on this issue further, even after the private meetings were held. She added she doesn't believe the market makes a bad impact on the center, but will see how these changes play out this season. Peraner-Sweet told her to report back to the board if there are further problems.

"It isn't that busy," Gilbert said after the meeting. "It's dead. It's dead, definitely in the fall... I know the Westford Farmers' Market is one of the best in this region but in my opinion, it's very slow."

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