Beans & Greens again waits for OK on weddings

GILFORD — Beans & Greens may have gotten zoning approval to host weddings at Timber Hill Farm, but the Gilford Planning Board is holding up any wedding plans after once again tabling a site plan application.
On Monday night, the board consider the application from Andy, Martina and Isaac Howe for holding farm-to-table events, including weddings, at their 250-acre property on Gunstock Hill Road, but wanted more information about whether the survivals of the farming operation depends upon approval of such events. The Howes have maintained that farm-to-table events, which fall under the mantle of agri-tourism, are crucial to their ability to maintain a viable farming operation.
Plans for the property call for construction of a 40-by-84-foot timber-frame barn with a 20-by-30-foot porch, an irrigation pond, a parking area and a temporary events area. The property is located in a single-family residential zone and has been the site of farm-to-table events for the last five years, including five this past summer, some of which were weddings.
After receiving a complaint from an abutter regarding weddings being held on the Howes’ property this past summer, a cease-and-desist order was issued by town’s code enforcement officer on Aug. 26 which said that the Howes could not resume hosting weddings or other similar activities until they had obtained site plan approvals from the planning board.
The Howes appealed the ruling to the Gilford Zoning Board of Adjustment, which held a lengthy meeting in late September which culminated with a 3-1 vote by the board to lift the cease-and-desist order.
Monday’s meeting, which went on for more than two hours, opened with the board receiving an opinion from legal counsel Attorney Robert Maher that the planning board, despite the ZBA’s decision, still has authority over what uses are permitted at the Timber Hill Farm site. He also said that weddings and other commercial activities are not permitted at the site under the town’s definition of agriculture.
Attorney Patrick Wood, who represented the Howes, said that the ZBA already had Maher’s opinion when they made their ruling.
He pointed out that Attorney Laura Spector, who was advising the ZBA, had told the board the issue was whether or not ‘’it is agriculture within your definition,’’ and that the board’ action had established that it is a permitted use.
‘’It’s not up to the planning board to reinterpret it,” said Wood.
Wood said that farms are by their nature commercial operations and that the Farm-to-Table aspect of the business, which he said encompasses weddings, as they are a part of selling products which are produced on the farm, meets the standards of the town’s zoning ordinance.
Attorney Joseph Driscoll, who represents Monique Twomey, the abutter who complained to the town about noise from the events, said commercial events shouldn’t be held in a residential zone and urged moving the weddings and Farm to Table events to Beans & Greens, which is located in a commercial resort area.
Bill Seed, who lives further up Gunstock Hill Road, said he sympathizes with the abutters and, referencing the weddings, asked, ‘’Would you want this in your backyard?’’
He also pointed out that the Howes’ property, which is under a conservation easement and is also in current use, is assessed for $880,000 but they only pay property taxes on $12,600 of that value.
Rick DeMark of Meredith, executive director of the North Country Resource, Conservation and Development Council, said agri-tourism is an effort by farms to expand their offerings and make farms more viable, and that such efforts have had a major impact on New Hampshire tourism.
‘’Agri-tourism has doubled in the last five years and is an integral part of today’s agriculture,’’ he said, pointing out that statewide it accounts for one-third of the state’s $935 million in agricultural income.
Planning Board Chairman John Morgenstern said the board is taking a deliberate approach and weighing all of the pertinent factors before making a decision. The board is scheduled to take up the plan again on Dec. 7.

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PSU student’s body found in river

PLYMOUTH — The body of a New Hampshire college student who has been missing since last week has been found in the Pemigewasset River, according to WMUR-TV.
Authorities say Plymouth State University student Jake Taylor Nawn went missing near a river at around 4 p.m. Thursday. The 23-year-old Holden, Massachusetts, man was reportedly last seen near the Common Man Inn in Plymouth. Crews continued searching for him on Sunday.
Police, Fish and Game officials and the New England K-9 Search and Rescue were all involved in the search efforts.
An informal candlelight service was set for Tuesday night at the college.
PSU President Donald Birx posted a message to the community on the school's website, expressing his sadness over the loss.
"We offer our deepest condolences to Jake's family, friends, and loved ones," he wrote. "During this time of great loss, we are reminded of the importance of community. Losing a fellow student and member of our University is very difficult. I encourage those who feel they or a peer may need additional support to contact PSU's Counseling and Human Relations Center."
– Ginger Kozlowski/AP

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Worry over tests - Laconia students’ scores drop below state average

LACONIA – Disappointing results on the first Smarter Balanced Assessment tests have city school board members concerned.
On average, said administrators at Monday's school board meeting, Laconia School District student elementary school scores were about 20 percent lower than those of the other school districts in the state.
On a more positive note, said administrators, as students progress within the school district, their scores became more on a par with those of the rest of the state.
"The rest of the state is 46 percent proficient and we're 21 points behind that," said member Mike Persson. "How did this happen?"
Administrators told the board that this is the first time Laconia students had ever taken the Smarter Balanced tests, which are designed to measure the school district against other school districts – unlike the NEWA exams that follow a child throughout his or her schooling and measure individual progress and deficiencies.
They said the tests are in a different format and students are tested for a total of eight hours. They are also tested on inferences and critical thinking – unlike the NEWA tests that are multiple choice – and measure accumulated knowledge. Laconia students' scores on the familiar NEWA tests were on par with the state, and slightly above them once high school was reached.
"It's hard to compare apples and oranges," said Academic Coordinator for Learning and Knowledge Steve Tucker.
"But we have some things to work on," he said, noting that longer passages in the English Language Arts and more complex reasoning in the math portion are being addressed by teachers and staff already. He said that reading was a low point in this test.
Persson, member Scott Vachon and Vice Chairman Malcolm Murray were not mollified, especially when they were told that this was the first test and there was a practice test last school year.
"Then the rest of the state practiced more," said Murray. "This is really bad."
High School Principal Jim McCollum said that Laconia has three times the number of students eligible for free- and reduced-lunch federal assistance than most of the other districts while Elementary School Academic Gail Bourne said that one of the problems with the younger students was they were unfamiliar with the physical workings of the computer model – another reflections of the average poverty level of the district.
Vachon asked the administration to provide the board with statistics from other school districts, including some of the raw data, so members could better digest and analyze what happened and what to do next.
Administrators said the problems with critical thinking and applications of both math and English are already being addressed by creating their own math program and more emphasis on reading longer sentences and paragraphs. They also said there are computer carts for the elementary schools.
Superintendent Phil McCormack said "no one felt the results were acceptable."
"But we can't forget that this is one test in time," he continued.
McCormack said what the school district does moving forward is far more important that what has already happened and that the infrastructure of the school is ready to do that.
Middle School Vice Principal Eric Johnson said what is really important is curriculum.
"Kids still have to learn how read, write and do math before technology," he said.

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