Gilford rushes definition of agritourism to get it on ballot

GILFORD — Defining what agritourism is became urgent for the Planning Board with deadlines looming for the March ballot, so the board held an emergency meeting Wednesday where it approved a definition of agritourism that will make it difficult for Andrew and Martina Howe to host weddings and other events at Timber Hill Farm.

While the proposed ordinance, which will appear on the town ballot, does not specifically exclude weddings and other similar events, it would prohibit the serving or consumption of alcoholic beverages and playing live or amplified music.

"We're trying to, at least to some extent, satisfy the rights of Andy Howe, of all farmers and of the abutters," said Morgenstern yesterday morning.

"We've taken into account what's gone before, and the petitioned warrant article," he continued, referring to a warrant article spearheaded by the Howes that offers a different version of the definition of agritourism.

Agritourism, agriculture and what each means has been controversial in Gilford because the Howes wish to continue to host weddings on their farm on Gunstock Hill Road. Neighbor Monique Twomey filed a complaint and the town code enforcement officer issued a cease-and-desist order that the Zoning Board twice refused to uphold.

In addition, Twomey has filed suit against the town claiming the Zoning Board made an unlawful decision when it denied her the opportunity to present additional testimony at a rehearing of its decision not to enforce the cease-and-desist order.

The proposed Planning Board-generated ordinance that will go on the ballot reads: "The term "agritourism" means attracting visitors to a working farm for the purpose of eating a meal, enjoyment of the farm environment, education of farm operations, or active involvement in the activity of the farm which is ancillary to the farm operation."

The Planning Board also defines what farmers can't do in a residential district as well, by saying owners or operators of farms shall not have lighting beyond the tent or barn that holds these events and that they shall hold their events in "a discrete area" but limit the number of total people at the event to 250. They can't have any single event earlier than 8 a.m. or later than 10 p.m.

In addition, farmers can't hold more than two events in any calendar week nor shall they hold more than 20 events in any calendar year. The Planning Board also prohibits events in which a third party is paying the owner or operator of a farm for the use of a farm property.

In the Planning Board's version of its ordinance, agritourism is allowed in all zones with the exception of the island residential zone.

The proposed ordinance includes an "open space" section that includes agritourism as an allowed event, provided there is a 500-foot setback from any off-site home. It also makes the owner of the property responsible for all federal, state and local laws and fire codes, for alcohol consumption on the property and for controlling any music or amplified speech so as not to be a nuisance to the neighbors.

Attorney Patrick Wood, who represents the Howes, said yesterday that the process by which the Planning Board created this ordinance is "extraordinary and not in keeping with a standard process for considering and proposing zoning ordinances."

Wood said that the normal process for zoning changes takes months, starts with suggested language, goes through public hearings, and many changes.

"The question is," said Wood, "If this is so important, then why is it being rushed through?"

Atty. Joseph Driscoll IV represents Twomey and said yesterday he wasn't ready to comment on the latest Planning Board proposed ordinance.

The Planning Board meets again on Jan. 19 at 7 p.m., when there will be a public hearing. At this meeting, votes will taken as to whether the Planning Board supports its own recommended ordinances and whether or not it supports ordinances submitted by petition, including two from the Howe family, that will also be on the ballot.

Fat Bikes

GILFORD — When Kale Poland, manager of the Nordic Center at Gunstock Mountain Resort, pitched the idea of offering fat bike rentals, one of his selling points was that they'd provide a way to sell trail passes when snow conditions were poor. He had no idea how quickly he would be proven correct.

The fat bike dates back a couple of decades, with riders in Alaska and the American southwest modifying conventional mountain bikes to fit larger tires, which could better handle snow and sand. According to an article on, Mike Curiak won the first Iditasport Impossible race, a 1,000-mile race to Nome, Alaska, in just over 15 days. He was riding a custom-built mountain bike with tires three inches wide. They remained exclusive to the custom-builders until 2005, when manufacturer Surley made fat bikes available to the masses with the Pugsley, a model with 3.7-inch wide tires.

"I've never seen a segment of the industry grow with more explosion," said Poland, who has been involved in the cycling industry as well as Nordic skiing. The interest in fat bikes seemed to bloom two winters ago, when manufacturers sold out of fat bikes before the snow started flying. Now, just about every mountain bicycle maker has a line of fat bikes for sale.

Poland sought to capitalize on that trend, and provide some insurance against weather, by purchasing six Reid fat bikes for rental this winter. It proved a prescient idea, as the poor snow quality has made for a miserable start to the cross-country ski and snowshoe season.

"The fat bikes are naturally something else you can do here," Poland said, "In a bad snow year, it can help to pull us through a little bit." Last weekend was the first time this winter that the Nordic trails were opened. All the fat bikes were rented out, with more than twice as many trail passes sold to people who brought their own fat bike.

"This has gone over pretty well," Poland said. Unlike some other Nordic areas, which restrict fat bikers to certain trails, or certain dates on the calendar, Poland has allowed free reign on Gunstock Nordic's 50 kilometers of trails. There are many miles of trails which will be enjoyable to the beginner or casual fat bike user, while the adventurous can follow the trail up and over the summit of Mount Rowe.

The largest, and most noticeable, difference between a fat bike and other mountain bicycles are the tires, and the larger frame components to accommodate them. The tires are about 4 inches wide and inflated to only about 10 pounds per square inch. There are some other differences, such as the lower gearing to make up for the greater rolling resistance of the large, soft tires. And the brakes are always applied to disks attached to the hubs of the wheels, as opposed to the rim of the tire, due to the greater possibility of snow or water on the tire rim. Poland said anyone who can ride a bicycle can hop on a fat bike.

"If you can ride a bike, you won't have a problem on this," he said.

While Gunstock Nordic's trails usually close at 4 p.m., after-dark fat bike-only rides are offered on Thursdays until 8 p.m. And, on Sunday, Jan. 10, the bikes will make possible Gunstock Nordic's first-ever winter triathlon. That event, which begins at 9 a.m., will featured a 5k snowshoe run, a 10k bike ride, and a 5k cross-country ski. Poland said registration for the event is $15, participants must supply their own fat bike, and those who wish to register may do so by emailing

In Laconia, Myles Chase, owner of MC Cycle and Sports, is riding the fat bike wave.

"I've never seen a type of riding or style of bike so on fire," said Chase. "Everyone that rides a bike wants one of these fat bikes... it's unreal."

Chase said he sells a couple of fat bikes per week, and his customers use them to explore snowmobile trails or groomed trails at places such as the Ramblin' V'ewe farm in Gilford.

"It's probably the best thing to happen to a New England bike shop," Chase said.

On the other side of the lake, though, fat bikes aren't seeing the same enthusiasm. Tim White, of the Nordic Skier Sports, which sells cross-country skiing and bicycling equipment, said, "We do sell them, we have moved a few, but it doesn't strike me that it will be as big as mountain biking in general was when it exploded in the late '80s, early '90s."

Factors hindering fat bikes, in White's view, include the limited availability of replacement tires, and the effect they have on cross-country ski trails. Fat bikes are not permitted in the Sewall Woods or Abenaki trail networks in Wolfeboro. As an experiment last winter, a fat bike user was allowed to ride on some of the trails in the Abenaki area, and the results were not good.

"There was quite a lot of damage," White said.

He can understand why a Nordic center would want to allow fat bikes on their trails when the snow conditions are poor, but he questioned having both skiers and bikers sharing the trails. He thought that most fat bike users would be inexperienced as skiers, and therefore wouldn't understand the importance of a smooth trail surface.

"The question is, what are you going to do when the skiing conditions improve?"

In Plymouth, fat bike riders aren't worrying about finding time on cross-country trails. Slade Warner, vice president of the Pemi Valley Chapter of the New England Mountain Bike Association, said members of that club have been making their own trails through Fox Park in Plymouth, packing the snow down using snowshoes. He said the trails at Franklin Falls Dam, in Franklin, are also an excellent place to take a fat bike.

"Obviously, snowmobile trails get a bulk of the use," Warner said, adding that fat bikes offer a welcome opportunity to get fresh air and aerobic excercise. "In a year like this, they're particularly attractive. As a cross-country skier, there's nowhere to go."

Timber Hill Farm neighbor files suit, wants restraining order to stop events

LACONIA — A Gilford woman at the center of an agritourism battle has filed suit against the town in Belknap County Superior Court this week.

Monique Twomey is asking the court to issue a restraining order on the owners of Timber Hill Farm from conducting weddings and other similar events on their property on Gunstock Hill Road.

Twomey, acting as an individual and as the trustee of her property, claims the Zoning Board of Adjustments' decision to overturn the cease-and-desist order stopping Andrew and Martina Howe from holding events on their property is unlawful and unreasonable.

The issue began last year when the Howes began hosting weddings under a large tent about 250 feet from Twomey's home. She objects to the noise and general neighborhood disturbance, as do other neighbors, and asked for and received a cease-and-desist order from Gilford's code enforcement officer. The ZBA declined to enforce the order in its first hearing and in the requested rehearing as well. By law, the next avenue available to Twomey is Superior Court.

Twomey, through attorney Joe Driscoll, said the ZBA decision flies in the face of a 2013 state Supreme Court decision that agritourism is not included in the state's definition of agriculture.

Driscoll also argues that the initial decision the ZBA made in early November was unclear as to the scope of its order, and the scope was only clarified during a rehearing on Dec. 1 in which the board refused to allow any testimony from either party. The ZBA ordered that the Howe family present a site plan to the Planning Board.

Driscoll said that this was wrong procedurally because the ZBA left no opportunity for his client to present new evidence as to whether or not the scope of the decision included allowing agritourism in all residential zones in Gilford. In the suit, he claims it was a separate and distinct interpretation that was not made clear the first time and said his client should have been give a full rehearing.

Attorney Laura Spector-Morgan, who represents the ZBA, had advised the three members who were there for the Dec. 1 meeting as to how they should word their motion. In addition, she clarified that the board's original decision to refuse to uphold the cease-and-desist order meant that agritourism – including weddings and the like, is considered part of agriculture.

Driscoll said the 3-to-0 vote on the clarification should be invalid, because the original vote was whether to uphold the cease-and-desist order, nothing further.

He also argues that only three members were present at the rehearing and one of them changed his vote from the first decision. Since Bill Knightly only voted on the cease and desist order the first time, Driscoll argues he should not have changed his vote to uphold the broader scope during the appeal.

Driscoll said the person who failed to attend the rehearing was the deciding factor in the 1-3 vote of Sept. 29 in the first hearing and should have been present to constitute a majority vote in the second hearing.

Driscoll asks that the court vacate the decision on the request for a rehearing and its clarification.

Moving to the larger issue, Driscoll also argues that the rule of ejusdem generis – or the rule that resolves the problem where groups of words in which one word is ambiguous – applies to the difference between agriculture and agritourism.

According to the pleading, the larger question of whether or not agritourism is agriculture has already been settled by a 2013 Supreme Court ruling titled Forster v Henniker or "Forster."

The Howes have been arguing all along that, by definition, the word "agriculture" includes the subcategory of "agritourism." Specifically, the Howes contend that the town of Gilford's ordinance allows agriculture in all seven zoning districts within the town.

The ordinance defines agriculture as "orchard, vegetable garden, nursery, dairy farm, commercial animals, livestock, or other commercial agriculture activities. Home farming is allowed in all zones."

Driscoll said the ordinance does not reference the state definition of agriculture that defines agriculture and farming. Within a separate paragraph of state law, the state defines agritourism 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."

The Howes have contended that in Gilford "other agricultural commercial activity" means weddings and similar events.

Driscoll argues that in Forster, the court decidedly said agritourism is not agriculture. Absent prior rulings, the majority of the court went to the legislative intent of the state law and determined that the legislature deliberately separated agritourism from agriculture.

Given the court's decision on the definitions of agriculture and agritourism being two separate things, he contends the ZBA decision was made in error.

Driscoll also claims that the Howes' activities near the Twomey property line is an unconstitutional taking. He said a broker advised him that his client's property values could be decreased by as much as $200,000 to close to one third of the value. He added the appraisal was obtained after the first ZBA decision but before the rehearing and that since he was not allow to present additional information, the decision made at the rehearing was invalid.

Driscoll also called the ZBA decision unreasonable because of it failed to consider the impact of his clients' property value.

Additionally, he said the notice of posting was specific to the Howe property and didn't not include that it was wide-sweeping, thus denying the right of citizens, residents, and property owners the opportunity to know the full impact of its decision.

Driscoll is also seeking legal fees.