Planning Board Tables Timber Hill Farm site plan

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.

Parking garage to re-open in time for Pumpkin Fest

LACONIA — City Manager Scott Myers said yesterday that the repairs of the ramp leading to the middle deck of the parking garage are expected to be completed on Thursday and the parking spaces restored to the inventory on Friday.

Myers said that the preliminary estimated cost of the repairs falls between $80,000 and $120,000, which includes stripping the corroded sections of the exposed steel of lead paint and welding fresh steel to reinforce the weakened members of the structure. Since lead paint poses an environmental hazard, the residue was contained and vacuumed then placed in sealed drums and shipped to an appropriate disposal site, all of which added to the cost of the project.

Meanwhile, the assessment of the structural condition of the parking by Dubois & King, Inc., which was interrupted by the repair work, will resume. Myers said that the assessment will focus particularly on the section of the garage atop the commercial spaces on Main Street, where leaks have occurred in the past. He indicated that once the assessment is done and the extent of any further repairs is determined city officials will be able to consider the future of the structure.

Meanwhile, on Friday some two-hour parking spaces in the parking lot adjoining City Hall will be closed to enable electricians to lay the wiring necessary to support the vendors attending the Pumpkin Festival on Saturday. Myers said that the number of closed spaces should not present a major inconvenience and the 15-minute spaces will remain open.

4 candidates vying for 2 seats on Laconia Police Commission

LACONIA — With the mayor and four of six city councilors running without opposition, the most competitive race on the municipal election ballot is the four- cornered contest between Mike Gagnon, Jonathan Muller, Tom Tarr and incumbent Doug Whittum for two seats on the Police Commission.

Whittum, the lone incumbent in the field, was first elected to the commission in 2007. He developed a close relationship and deep respect for the Police Department , especially the school resources officers, during his long career as a teacher, guidance counselor and principal in the Laconia school system. Whittum also spent 40 years as a seasonal officer with Marine Patrol. As a commissioner he has been a strong supporter of the community policing and "Problem Oriented Policing" (POP) initiatives pursued by the department.

A native of Gilford, Gagnon graduated from Keene State College in 1998 then spent eight years in the real estate business in Scottsdale, Arizona before returning to the Lakes Region to join his father Jerry at JG Realty in 2007. He said that his interest in the Police Commission was triggered at a event sponsored by Fusion, a group fostering civic engagement and leadership, when Warren Clement, the retiring commissioner he seeks to succeed, suggested he consider the Police Commission.

Gagnon said that he began attending meetings of the commission and enrolled in the Citizen's Police Academy to become acquainted with the work of the department. He said he was impressed by the relationship between the officers and the public as reflected by the consistently high marks on the report cards citizens complete after engaging with the police. Likewise, Gagnon said he is impressed by the approach the department has taken to the scourge of addiction by concentrating on treatment. "They are trying something," he remarked, "and it's an amazing approach."

Gagnon stressed that "my goal is just to be involved and lend my voice when it is needed." He is the only candidate not to have put up signs, but conceded "there may be a sign coming soon to your lawn," Readily acknowledging that "all the candidates are well qualified," he said "one may have an advantage of greater experience."

That would be Tom Tarr, who last year retired after a career of 40 years in the criminal justice system, beginning as a probation and parole officer in 1974, becoming director of the probation and parole division at the New Hampshire Department of Corrections in 1985, and concluding as the chief federal probation officer in New Hampshire. He said that following his retirement he was wondering how to put his experience to use at the local level when he saw the advertisement for a vacancy on the Police Commission.

Tarr said that his experience matched the major responsibilities of the Police Commission such as overseeing budgets, contracts and the general operation of a law enforcement agency. In particular, in light of the challenge of substance abuse he highlighted his role in introducing the first federal drug court and treatment program — LASER (Law Abiding Sober Employed Rehabilitated), which he said posted a 70 percent success rate.

"I really just want to serve my city," said Jonathan Muller, who grew up on Dartmouth Street, graduated from New Hampton School and Plymouth State University, and for the past 17 years has owned and operated a successful landscaping business. He said that he is troubled by the prevalence of addiction, mental health issues and homelessness on the streets of the city and doubts that the police have sufficient personnel to address the problems.

Muller said he has ridden with officers on all three shifts and discovered there are times when only a sergeant and one or two officers are patrolling the entire city."There are not enough officers on the street," he offered. He suggested the commission should "think outside the box," in particular by considering the "Volunteers in Police Service" (VIPS) program. He explained that the programs provide one or two volunteers, trained to guidelines and standards set by the International Association of Chiefs of Police, to each shift who conduct welfare checks and traffic control. He described policing as "a tough job" and said he was running for the commission to see "what we can do to help them, It's also a great way to give back to the community."