Petition drive underway for special town meeting on agritourism zoning
GILFORD — A petition drive has been launched by the Howe family for a special town meeting to consider amendments to the town's zoning ordinance which would define agritourism and make it easier for them to hold Farm to Table events, including weddings, at their Timber Hill Farm property.
The Howes — Andrew, Martina and their son Isaac, currently have a site plan for their Timber Hill property before the town planing board to hold such events but are concerned over possible changes in the town's zoning ordinance which might limit their ability to conduct such events in the future.
'They maintain that the uncertainty created by the possibility of changes creates a difficult environment in which to pursue their plans to diversify and evolve their business .
A recent cease and desist order issued by the town which would have prohibited them from holding Farm to Table events without first obtaining site plan approval for their Timber Hill property was lifted when they appealed he ruling to the Zoning Board of Adjustment last month. But there has been a request for a rehearing of that ruling, which if denied by the ZBA could lead to a court case and more uncertainty.
And the Howes say they are concerned by a discussion held by the planning board Monday night on possible zoning amendment changes involving agritourism and agriculture. Although they did not attend the meeting, they got the impression that agritourism would be banned in all residential zones, which would include Timber Hill Farm, which is located in a single-family residential zone.
Two weeks ago the Howes site plan came before the planning board, which tabled it pending a site walk of the property which was held last Friday. The plan envisions construction of a timber-frame barn for hosting events and an irrigation pond and seeks one more summer of use of the current farm-to-table events site. The board is scheduled to take up the plan when it meets on November 16.
''We'd like to get started now on the project and not have to wait five months until zoning changes get voted on. That's why we'd like to see an emergency town meeting and get the issues resolved now,'' said Andrew Howe. His wife, Martina, said that they already have sufficient signatures to present the petition to the town.
Town Planner John Ayer says that some of the Howes concerns are blown out of proportion.
He says that the planning board's proposals for defining agritourism and agriculture are ''a work in progress'' and may well be modified.
''We're looking at following the state definition of agriculture with slight modifications and allowing agritourism events, including weddings, in commercial and industrial zones but not in residential zones. That may change,'' says Ayer.
He said that because the Howes site plan has already been accepted by the planning board as complete, no provisions of any proposed zoning change will play a role in determining whether or not the plan obtains site plan approval.
''If their plan is approved, then the use will be grandfathered, just like the corn maze and pick-your-own at Beans & Greens'' said Ayer.
The Howes own Beans and Greens, which is a family farm and and farm stand that operates from a commercial /resort zone on Intervale Road in what is called the "meadows" portion of Gilford. They raise many of the products sold at the farm stand at Timber Hill Farm, which is located in a single family residential zone on Gunstock Hill Road which has been the site farm to table events for the last five years, and more recently the site of weddings which are described as part of an agritourism business of the Howes.
Agritourism, which is defined by a state statute as "attracting visitors to a working farm for the purpose of eating a meal, making overnight stays, enjoyment of the farm environment, education on farm operations, or active involvement in the activity of the farm which is ancillary to the farm operation" is the fastest growing part of the state's agriculture scene, accounting for up to one-third of the $1.2 billion in state agricultural revenues according to a recent Plymouth State University study.