Endangered city oak tree expected to stay uncut at least through January

LACONIA — The Planning Board has taken the next step toward deciding the future of the venerable oak tree on Union Avenue by formally agreeing to consider the request of Cafua Management Inc. to remove the tree.
However, at the same time, the Planning Board commissioned an independent third-party review both by a traffic engineer, to determine if the tree poses a hazard, and by a professional arborist, to assess the condition of the tree. Both the traffic engineer and the professional arborist will be chosen by the Belknap County Conservation Commission, independently of either the city or the company, and compensated by Cafua Management Inc.
City Planning Director Shanna Saunders said Wednesday she anticipates the traffic engineer and arborist would submit their reports in January and the Planning Board could address the request at its meeting in February.
Meanwhile, the City Council is expected to adopt a resolution urging the Planning Board to deny the request to remove the tree and reaffirm its original requirement that “the large oak tree near the northeast corner of the property is a monumental shade tree, and as such shall be protected and maintain(ed) during and after construction” by the property owner.

Summer party melee results in four guilty pleas

LACONIA — The four people charged in a melee with Belmont Police during a family gathering on June 27 have all pleaded guilty to charges stemming from their arrests.
Jeremy Cole, 37, of Brook Road in Sanbornton was charged with two counts of assault on a police officer and resisting arrest. He pleaded guilty this week in the 4th Circuit Court, Laconia Division to one count of misdemeanor simple assault. Cole was sentenced to 60 days in the house of corrections with all but two days suspended. The Belmont prosecutor said the two days in jail are suspended for one year based on good behavior.
Erika Cole, 34, of Brook Road in Sanbornton was charged with one count of hindering apprehension for trying to get between a police sergeant and her husband Jeremy while the sergeant was trying to arrest him. She pleaded guilty to one count of resisting arrest, said the prosecutor.
Daureen Harding, 58, of Brook Road in Sanbornton was initially charged with one count of a Class A misdemeanor of hindering apprehension for grabbing Erika Cole by the arm and pulling her away from an officer who was trying to arrest her. She pleaded guilty one Class B misdemeanor count of disorderly conduct.
Frederick Scheffer, 44, of Forest Drive in Belmont, which is where the fight occurred, had been charged with one Class A misdemeanor charge of resisting arrest for getting in between the sergeant and Frederick Cole while the sergeant was trying to arrest Cole. The prosecutor said he was the only defendant to appear without a lawyer and pleaded guilty to a violation level charge of resisting arrest.
According to an eyewitness and police reports, the police were called to the home by a neighbor after two of the party guests were involved in an argument. When the first officer arrived, he found himself in the middle of a group of adults who were not happy to see him. His sergeant responded minutes later and reinforcements were called from Gilmanton, Alton, Northfield and Barnstead Police Departments.
In the course arresting the above four, Jeremy Cole was zapped by a Taser and Scheffer was sprayed with pepper spray.

Gilford tells Timber Hill Farm to get variance for agritourism

GILFORD – The pendulum shifted away from Timber Hill Farm and back toward its abutter last night when the Planning Board voted 4-to-2 that "farm-to-table events," weddings and other similar commercial activities are inappropriate for single-family residential zones.

The board determined applicants Andrew and Martina Howe of Gunstock Hill Road will need a variance from the Zoning Board of Adjustments to move forward.

The vote sent the Howes' attorneys, Patrick and Ethan Wood, who had gone to Monday's meeting to request a site plan review for their farm-to-table and other events, scrambling to file for a variance before the close of business yesterday, which is the deadline to appear before the ZBA in late December.

The meeting was a crowded with people who support the Howes and with those who don't. Many of those who don't are abutters or neighbors while many of those who do are from surrounding communities and involved in agricultural pursuits.

The Howes own a 250-acre farm in a single-family residential zone on 263 to 300 Gunstock Hill Road. Last year, they experimenting with holding weddings along with a farm-to-table event they have been holding since 2008. According to previous statements by the Howes, their weddings and other events were successful and they have taken deposits for "six or seven" of these events for 2016. Abutter Monique Twomey objected, and a cease-and-desist order was issued by the code enforcement department. The order was challenged twice through the ZBA and both times the board declined to uphold it, allowing the matter to go to the Planning Board for site plan review. Because Howe is the vice chairman of the ZBA and a longtime member of that board, three of the six members, including Howe, recused themselves for various reasons and former Selectman Connie Grant was appointed to temporary fill-in for this hearing.

Monday's meeting began with attorney Robert Ciandella, who represents the Planning Board, explaining it needed to determine first if they have jurisdiction over zoning laws through their duty to evaluate site plans. The board voted unanimously that it did.

The next step, according to Ciandella was to determine in the context of the Howes' application in light of the uses permitted under current Gilford zoning ordinances.

With member Norman Silber taking the lead, he noted the ZBA did not "overturn" the cease-and-desist order issued by the the code enforcement officer in the wake of the complaint, but voted 1-to-4 not to enforce it. The decision not to enforce was upheld by a 3-to-0 vote at a rehearing of the ZBA in late November. He described the event as a way to "bypass" the Planning Board– either intentionally or unintentionally.

"The back door [was] to expand a decision not to enforce an order into an omnibus ruling," he said, to which Chairman John Morgenstern agreed.

Morgenstern said the ZBA's attorney, Laura Spector-Morgan, said their decision as to whether or not this was permitted had nothing to do with site plan review and was not a statement as to whether the use is allowed in a single-family zone.

Silber moved that hosting farm-to table events, weddings and the like did not constitute agriculture and the proposed use by the Howes' requires a land use variance from the ZBA.

Member Carolyn Scattergood said she would not support the motion, as Silber made it because she didn't want to include "farm-to-table." She said she was concerned with weddings and other similar events.

Silber's motion passed 4-to-2, with Scattergood and Wayne Hall voting against it.

By way of explanation, Silber said that the Howes' request for a site plan has nothing to do with conservation easements and has nothing to do with the town's selectboard or police department.

He said those arguments are "red herrings" and "irrelevant." While Silber agreed that New Hampshire is a Right to Farm state, he said that doesn't mean someone can use it to "bootstrap" any commercial activity in a single-family residence.

"If this was a commercial zone, no problem," Silber continued, noting the state Supreme Court recently ruled on a similar case, saying that nothing in RSA 21:34(a) – the state law that defines agriculture – incorporates agritourism within the definition of agriculture. Further, said Silber, in his opinion, the Supreme Court said in their 4-to-1 ruling that the state legislature specifically removed agritourism from the definition of agriculture and gave it its own specific definition.

"If someone doesn't like it, then go to Concord and get it changed," he said.

Morgenstern said that while he has sympathy for the Howes, he also understands the point of view of the neighbors and feels the Planning Board is there for all of the people and not to take away anybody's rights, including those of the abutters.

Morgenstern noted that many of the people at the first Planning Board hearing who spoke for agritourism were not Gilford residents but people with their own agendas.

"They don't have to live with the decisions [the land boards] here have to make," Silber added.