Selectmen order Planning Board to act on Timber Hill Farm zoning request

GILFORD — Time is up for an answer from the Planning Board on Timber Hill Farm's site plan review, so selectmen ordered the Planning Board to act on the review within 30 days.

The order came after Andy and Martina Howe's lawyer, Patrick Wood, made a request at the board meeting Wednesday night.

A letter sent to Planning Board Chairman John Morgenstern on Jan. 13, and signed by all three selectmen, said that N.H. RSA 676:4,I(c)(1) "requires the Planning Board to approve, conditionally approve or disapprove an application for site plan review withing 65 days of accepting the application as complete.

The Planning Board is scheduled to act on the Timber Hill Farm site plan on Jan. 19 at its regularly scheduled meeting.

The board said in the letter that the Howes' application was accepted as complete on Oct. 19, and the 65 days to act ended on Dec. 23. Wood said the Planning Board's vote of Dec. 7 to stay action on the site plan review until Monique Twomey's appeal to the Zoning Board of Adjustments not to uphold a cease-and-desist order on the Howes' wedding activities could be heard, is not an action described in the law.

Wood went on to say that he has heard allegations that his clients have receives some favorable treatment on the part of the town. Yesterday he said "there have been assertions that there have been some illegal activities that should be investigated..."

"That offends me," he continued, saying he wanted the selectmen to know that wasn't the case.

"[My client] does not intend to violate any ordinance or regulation nor, to the best of my knowledge, have they done so."

During the brief discussion by board members, Selectman Chan Eddy, who is the selectboard's representative to the Planning Board, said he normally recuses himself from discussions involving Timber Hill Farm because of a family connection but said "I don't think recusal can be appropriate [for this specific issue."]

He made the motion to direct the Planning Board to act and it was seconded by Selectman Richard "Rags" Grenier, who noted that it appears the selectmen by law have been included in the process, seconded the motion, which passed unanimously.

Plymouth chef finds hot market for ice

PLYMOUTH — How did Jeff Day come to spend so much of his time carving ice? It all started by cracking a few eggs.

Day's professional training is as a chef. He still spends many hours cooking, as he owns the Plain Jane Diner in Rumney. When he's not in the kitchen, though, he can typically be found in a small commercial building on Fairgrounds Road in Plymouth, carving sculptures out of ice. He traces his ice carving business back to his first culinary job, working at a high-end hotel in San Diego, California, which had a restaurant that served up to 900 people each Sunday brunch.

"Because I was the new guy, I was the omelet guy," said Day. The omelet station was right next to the ice sculpture, so he passed the time by chatting with the sculptor. "I hung around them and got very much interested – the bug was bit in San Diego," he said, though he never did any ice carving in California.

When he moved back to New Hampshire – he had received his degree at the culinary school in Berlin – he got a job at the Center of New Hampshire hotel in Manchester. There, with some youthful bluster, was where he first converted a block of ice into art.

"The chef asked me if I could carve. I said, 'Absolutely.' I had no idea what I was doing," he said. After struggling through a few homely sculptures, he started to get the hang of it, and wanted to take his skills to a new level. He did so by working with Boston-area ice sculptors Steve Rose and Bill Covitz, carving alongside them for free, just to see how they created their masterpieces.

When he became the chef at the Center of New Hampshire, in 1995, Day gained the latitude to follow his creativity. As the largest convention venue in New Hampshire at the time, the facility hosted the governor's balls. For a ball when Jeanne Shaheen was governor, Day carved a life-size horse and carriage. For Gov. John Lynch, he created a full-size moose.

The Plain Jane Diner is a much smaller scale than the Center of New Hampshire, which has allowed Day to expand his ice carving business. He started with a couple of ice-block machines in the basement of the diner, and would transport the blocks to a walk-in freezer in his back yard. Last winter, he purchased the building on Fairgrounds Road, which has opened a new level of ice carving to him.

He now has nine machines making ice blocks. Each one can freeze a pair of 300-pound blocks of ice in three-and-a-half days, giving him the capacity to produce 36 blocks each week. In addition to making ice for himself, he's also selling blocks to the two other ice carvers working in New Hampshire. He's sold 250 blocks to other carvers this year, something that has taken him by surprise.

"It's been something I didn't expect," he said.

He has also found a hot market for his scrap ice, left over after the sculpture is finished. He cuts it into large cubes, up to 3 inches in each dimension, and sells it to high-end whiskey bars.

"The business had always been my side business, but it has grown and grown and grown. It's incredible how busy I am," Day said. His creations are seen at First Night celebrations, corporate functions, and he has become the go-to guy for ice bars.

"Something we've really nailed is the ice bar events," he said, referring to events, typically outdoors and in the winter, where everything is made of ice, including the bars themselves.  He is currently working on creating everything necessary for the ice bar at the Portland Harbor Hotel, in Portland, Maine, which will be held Jan. 21-23 this year and will feature two martini bars and one bar for Shipyard beer. This will be the 12th time that Day has carved all the ice for the event, and is proud to report that Forbes Travel Guide included it on its list of "5 Ice Bars Too Cool to Miss This Season." The other ice bars included two in Utah, one in Alaska and one in Sweden.

Day said he "absolutely" prefers ice carving to work in his kitchen. Aside from occasional help from his friend Jeff Landry, who helps assemble the large carvings, Day likes working by himself in his walk-in freezer, with just the radio, the ice and his artistic vision. He has even come to love the smell of ice.

"At the beginning, I was just interested in the artistic end of it, the creativity. It was a good outlet for me. Now, I'm still interested in the creativity, but it's very much a business – It just keeps getting busier."

Neglected land could be cleaned up if city allows sale

LACONIA — The City Council this week tabled an offer from Harry Bean to purchase part of a 1.67-acre lot owned by the city on Davis Place, which has become an unsightly dumping ground.

Bean seeks to purchase 9,810 square feet of untended woodland straddling Jewett Brook and lying between a house lot he owns at 32 Davis Place, on the opposite bank of the brook, and the remainder of the city property, part of which serves as a parking lot. Bean said yesterday that he is renovating the property at 32 Davis Place as a home for his granddaughter and adding the land next door to his lot would ensure that it is no longer neglected.

"One tree has blown down and others are rotten," he said, "and we've had shopping carts, mattresses, TVs, you name it, left there."

Bean offered $1,000 for the property, which would be acquired by a boundary line adjustment. Since the parcel would be carved out of the larger lot, its assessed value has not been determined. If the transaction closed, the property would be returned to the tax rolls and its value reflected in the assessment of the lot at 32 Davis Place to which it would be added.

Councilor Armand Bolduc (Ward 6) said that "Harry (Bean) is concerned about what goes on at that wood lot." Describing the property as "a piece of crap," he said that "the city has everything to gain and nothing to lose, even at a price of $1,000. I think it's a good deal for the city."

City Manager Scott Myers explained that the first step in the process of selling the property would be to schedule a public hearing to determine that it is "surplus." However, the council asked Myers to obtain an appraisal of the property as well as approach Bean about paying the transaction costs and agreeing to restrict the use of the land.

Bean, who has recently renovated several properties in the city, said "I like to take the worst place on the street and turn it into the best place," adding that "it gives the neighbors an incentive to improve their properties."