Gilmanton Winery wants court ruling on its legal status

By GAIL OBER, LACONIA DAILY SUN

GILMANTON — After agreeing to an temporary truce to prevent the Planning Board from stopping the Gilmanton Winery from operating, owners Marshall Bishop and his wife have requested that a Belknap County Superior Court judge determine the validity of the board's complaint.

Specifically, the Bishops want the court to determine the pending cease-and-desist order is unlawful, that the Planning Board lacks the authority to ask that the Bishops start all over again, and that their existing site plan for the winery is valid and complete and complies with all the existing rules and regulations.

Marshall Bishop, who is a Gilmanton selectman, has long contended that he got a proper site plan approval in 2011 for a winery and function room. He said his project was approved in three phases, the first of which was to convert the barn to a winery and the second of which was to convert the downstairs of the former Grace Metalious home to a dining and function area. The Bishops say they host small dining functions for a limited number of people, including three lunches a week, Sunday brunch, and a monthly five-course meal that is prepared off site and catered.

The third is to convert the upstairs and downstairs of the home to a bread and breakfast, which hasn't been started yet.

According to Planning Board attorney Paul Fitzgerald, the issue the Planning Board has with the Bishops is the restaurant. The board initially contended that having a restaurant involved preparing food on site and there was never a variance or special exception for that.

Earlier this year, the Bishops went before the Zoning Board and were granted a special exception. Now, says Fitzgerald, the Planning Board wants, at a minimum, a revised site plan to reflect the restaurant, although the minutes of the meeting where the cease and desist letter was first discussed indicate that at least one member, Martin Martingale, wants a revised site plan for the entire project.

In his recent pleading in the Belknap County Superior Court, the Bishops points out that Martindale was one of the members of the Planning Board in 2011 who approved his site plan.

Bishop said he was granted final site plan approval, which included a bus turnaround and a golf cart path to the final plan.

He said four months after being granted his 2011 approval, he returned to the board and told them that constructing a golf cart footbridge was to be part of the third phase of the project, and at the February 2012 meeting, the Planning Board agreed the bridge could be constructed later.

Legally, Bishop says, the Planning Board is stopped from requiring a new site plan because the winery operated for five years before it started questioning it. He also claims the Planning Board is abusing its power such that their motives are to punish him and were triggered by personal grudges.

Bishop also claims that even if it was determined that he has been operating the winery unlawfully, the Planning Board has known of his operation for five years and it should have known in 2011 he was operating unlawfully. He also said he hasn't made any substantial changes to the winery since 2011.

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