GILFORD — The Gilford Planning Board Monday night tabled a site plan application from Andy and Martina Howe for holding farm-to-table events at their 250-acre Timber Hall Farm property on Gunstock Hill Road.
The plan was tabled pending a site view of the property, which will take place on October 30 at 11 a.m. The board will take up the tabled application when it meets again on November 16.
Planning Board Chairman John Morgenstern called for the tabling of the application after a public hearing which went on for more than an hour. He also said that he wanted obtain an opinion from town counsel specifying that weddings held on the property are a permitted use under local zoning as well as under state law.
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. The Howes also own Beans and Greens, which is a family farm and and farm stand that operates in a commercial-resort zone on Intervale Road in what is called the "meadows" portion of Gilford.
After receiving a complaint from an abutter regarding weddings being held on the Howe's property this summer a cease and desist order was issued by town's code enforcement officer on August 26 which said that the Howes could not resume holding 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 three weeks ago which culminated with a 3-1 vote by the board to lift the cease and desist order.
During Monday night's meeting Andrew Howe outlined plans for the property, which call for construction of a 40 foot by 84 foot timber frame farm with a 20 by 30 foot porch, as well as construction of a sugar house and an irrigation pond. The plan also calls for a parking area and a temporary events area.
Howe said that he hopes to have the barn completed in time to host events during the summer of 2017 and plans to hold events next summer under a tent at a temporary events area. He noted that the Society for the Protection of New Hampshire Forests holds a conservation easement on the property, which allows only agriculture and forestry uses of the land with only agricultural buildings allowed.
A discretionary consent agreement with the society, which is good for two years, allows up to 15 events between May and October and requires that the tent come down between events unless they are held on consecutive days.
The proposal came under fire by Planning Board member Jerry Gagnon, who said that from his standpoint it was ''a commercial operation that has nothing to do with farming'' which would take wedding business away from places like the Gunstock Inn.
When Howe pointed out that the ZBA's ruling allows him to hold weddings on the property Gagnon said that as chairman of the ZBA Howe, who recused himself from taking part in the deliberations on the appeal, is familiar with how the ZBA works and knew what kind of arguments would persuade the ZBA to support his appeal.
Gagnon also questioned why the Howes had chosen their property in a single family residential area when hey own 48 acres at Beans & Greens in a commercial resort zone where they could have chosen as a site for farm-to-table events, including weddings.
Howe said that given the choice between the views available at Beans and Greens and those at Timber Hill more than 99.9 percent of prospective customers would choose the Timber Hill site.
Gagnon said that views have nothing to do with farming, adding ''to me you're 100 percent wrong in this location.''
Also critical of the proposal was Attorney Joseph Driscoll, who represents Monique Twomey, the abutter who complained to the town about noise from the events, who said that the planned center for events ''is cornered right up next to my client's property'' and said that 15 events would take up nearly every weekend during the summer.
He said that having an ongoing commercial enterprise next door would have an adverse effect on the value and marketability of his client's property and questioned why alternative areas on the property weren't being considered.
Howe pointed out that under terms of the conservation easement most of the property is considered prime agricultural land and cannot be built on. The area chosen of the barn is not prime agricultural land because it is ledge, some of which is exposed, making it one of the only buildable areas on the property.
Another critic of the plan was Bill Seed, who lives on Gunstock Hill Road but is not an abutter, who said that he couldn't understand how weddings and farm to table events are considered agricultural uses.
Bob Pomeroy, an abutter, said that at first he was in favor of the Howes' plan but since has had his doubts, saying that ''I feel sorry for my neighbor. This has been pretty much of a nightmare for her.'' He expressed hope that having events inside a barn would make it easier for her.
Selectman Chan Eddy, who is the selectmen's representative on the planning board, recused himself from the deliberations and later spoke from the audience in favor of the plan.
He said that many farms are not surviving because farmers can't make a living just raising vegetables and need to diversify in order to keep their farm operations going.
''We should do everything we can to support agriculture so it can survive.'' said Eddy, who pointed out that the Howes run the last remaining farm in Gilford.
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