By DAVID CARKHUFF/THE LACONIA DAILY SUN
GILFORD — The Gilford Planning Board set itself up as a "super" zoning board to illegally overrule the Gilford Zoning Board of Adjustment and prohibit weddings at Timber Hill Farm, according to a new court filing in what has become a protracted battle over agritourism.
The operators of Timber Hill Farm filed two motions with Belknap County Superior Court Friday, arguing that a Feb. 14 court ruling that barred the farm from hosting weddings created "competing and contrary interpretations of the Gilford Zoning Ordinance that control the use of the property."
In a Feb. 14 ruling, Belknap County Superior Court Judge James O'Neill overturned a Gilford Zoning Board decision that concluded that, under the town's zoning ordinance, weddings were permitted agricultural uses at Timber Hill Farm.
A neighbor, Monique Twomey, sued to prevent weddings at the Gilford farm, located at 263 Gunstock Hill Road, overlooking Lake Winnipesaukee.
Twomey took the case to court after the Gilford Zoning Board reviewed an appeal of an administrative decision, a cease-and-desist order dated Aug. 26, 2015, relating to a section of the Gilford Zoning Ordinance governing agriculture. The order barred weddings at Timber Hill Farm.
The Zoning Board voted against the cease-and-desist order, finding that weddings and other farm-to-table events at Timber Hill Farm were permissible under "other commercial agricultural activity." Judge O'Neill vacated the Zoning Board's decision, finding that the board improperly interpreted "agriculture" as defined by the town's zoning ordinance.
In separate filings on Friday, Andrew and Martina Howe, operators of Timber Hill Farm, asked the court to clarify and reconsider its Feb. 14 ruling.
The seven-page motion for reconsideration argues that the Planning Board attempted to "subvert the power and authority of the ZBA by deciding that it had the legal authority to interpret" the zoning ordinance; and that "there is nothing in the enabling statutes that provides the Planning Board with the legal authority to countermand a valid ZBA decision regarding the use of the property."
"The Court's decision in this case legitimizes an illegal and unlawful attempt by the Gilford Planning Board to ignore the law dealing with challenges to a ZBA decision," the motion reads.
In the two-page motion for clarification, the Howes argue that the Zoning Board's decision of Dec. 22, 2015 — finding that weddings and similar activities are permitted agricultural uses under the Gilford Zoning Ordinance — was not appealed to the Superior Court in time. At that time, the Zoning Bard had overturned an earlier Planning Board decision.
This motion for clarification also argues that the court took competing views — recognizing on one hand that the Zoning Board on Sept. 29, 2015, interpreted the zoning ordinance and that the definition of agriculture included "farm to table" events, but on the other hand that the Zoning Board's decision of Dec. 22, 2015, was unlawful and unreasonable, creating a conflict.
"It is necessary for the court to identify which decision is controlling and why," the motion reads.
This motion also asks what is included in the court's definition of weddings.
The Howes charge that Twomey piggybacked "on the unlawful and improper decision of the Gilford Planning Board." Their motion for reconsideration asks the court to affirm the Gilford Zoning Board's decisions.
More broadly, the court filings warn that the ruling, if unaltered, could create uncertainty in the zoning and planning process because when an applicant didn't like a decision of the Zoning Board, they could simply convince the Planning Board to arrive at a different interpretation.
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