Howes today submitting site plan for Timber Hill

GILFORD — Andy and Martina Howe say that they will be presenting a site plan for their Gunstock Hill Road property called Timber Hill Farm to the town's Planning Department today which envisions construction of a timber-frame barn for hosting events and an irrigation pond.
The Howes have been working on the site plan since last year but the lack of an approved site plan for the property became an issue in recent weeks when the town issued a cease and desist order which would have prevented them from hosting weddings and other events at Timber Hill Farm until they obtained site plan approval from the town's Planning Board.
Tuesday night the town's Zoning Board of Adjustment, by a 3-1 vote, granted the Howes' appeal of the cease and desist order.
The Howes own Beans and Greens, which is a family farm and and farm stand that operates from a commercial zone on Intervale Road in what is called the "meadows" portion of Gilford. They raise many of the products sold at the farm stand at Timber Hill Farm, which is located in a single family residential zone and has been the site of so-called farm to table events for the last four years, and more recently the site of weddings which are described as part of an agri-tourism business of the Howes.
The cease and desist order was issued by the town's code enforcement officer on August 26 after receiving a complaint from an abutter regarding weddings being held at the property, which they maintained were not agriculture related. Attorney Robert Maher in his advice to the town cited an opinion issued by the N.H. Supreme Court in June of 2015 about a similar operation in Henniker, that said "weddings and like events are not accessory uses" to a farm and that hosting these events in (Henniker) is not a permitted use.
The Howes appealed, maintaining that their use of that property fell within Gilford's definition of agriculture.
The Howes also said that the the order posed a threat to their livelihood and the very idea of agri-tourism events, which prompted a large turnout of nearly 40 people at Tuesday nights hearing, including representatives of statewide farming and conservation groups concerned over the impact of the cease and desist order.
Atty. Patrick Wood, who represents the Howes, maintained at the hearing that the Henniker ruling doesn't impact Gilford, because the Henniker ordinance ruling uses the state definition of agriculture, while Gilford's ordinance is substantially different and permits accessory uses.
He said that weddings are not the issue as they are farm to table events, just like family and class reunions and as such are part of the permitted marketing and selling of products grown at the farm under the town's definition of agriculture.
ZBA member Bill Knightly said that he wanted to focus on the property at 263 Gunstock Hill Road, not issues dealing with farm to table, and was supported by fellow board members Scott Davis and Connie Grant.
'We're talking about weddings, gatherings of 100 or more people,'' said Grant, while Davis said, ''this (trouble) all goes away if you get site plan approval.''
Wood said it was the Howes' understanding that weddings are a permitted use under the town's ordinance and Reagan Bissonnette of the Society for the Protection of New Hampshire Forests, which holds a conservation easement on the property, said that the society had agreed that weddings could be held on the property.
Rick DeMark of Meredith, executive director of the North Country Resource, Conservation and Development Council, said that agri-tourism is an effort by farms to expand their offerings and make farms more viable and that such efforts have had a major impact on New Hampshire tourism.
''Agri-tourism has doubled in the last five years and is an integral part of today's agriculture,'' he said pointing out that statewide it accounts for $1.2 billion a year in income compared to $336 million for agricultural products.
''It's a key to diversification of income and viability for farmers,'' said DeMark.
John Moulton of Meredith, owner of Moulton's Farm, whose operation is similar to Beans and Greens, said that the state's farms are constantly evolving and that one of his most profitable ventures is hosting tour buses.
''We had one stop the other day with 55 people. We gave them all miniature pumpkins and tours. It was the most profitable thing that happened all day at the farm,'' said Moulton, who expressed support for the Howes' efforts.
Attorney Joseph Driscoll, who represents the unnamed abutter who complained to the town, said that the complaint centers on the town's site plan review process and that at a recent wedding with 100 plus guest there was substantial traffic and a bonfire just on the other side of his client's fence.
Long-time Gilford residents Donald Carey and Ken Wilson expressed support for Howes, with Wilson pointing out that the Howes have been able to keep the farm viable and deserve consideration for their efforts.
Debbie Brady of Gilford said that her daughter Colleen is planning her wedding for next summer at Timber Hill Farm and that her daughter's grandfather ''is thrilled to death'' with the idea of the wedding taking place on a farm.
The Howes' son, Isaac, made an impassioned plea for lifting the cease and desist order, saying that he had moved back to Gilford to be a part of his parent's efforts and that they run the last working farm in town.
Members of the ZBA said they felt conflicted about the decision they faced and were told by their attorney that the question came down to whether or not they thought that the town's definition of agriculture covers weddings.
Knightly, who moved to uphold the town's cease and desist order, said that weddings were a commercial operation and should not be allowed, saying that people at a recent wedding created traffic problems and were ''stumbling around in the road".'
But Grant, Davis and Ann Montminy voted "no" on his motion,
''It was a nail biter. People had no idea how it was going to be decided,'' said Andy Howe, who tossed his arms in the air after the vote was taken and expressed his gratitude for the support from the majority of board members.

Ronald Martin sentenced for tax evasion - 573 words

CONCORD — Ronald W. Martin, 65, of Hill, was sentenced on Thursday by the United States District Court for the District of New Hampshire to 12 months in prison and 3 years of supervised release for tax evasion, according to Acting United States Attorney Donald Feith.

Martin formerly owned and operated Martin Construction in Northfield and employed three to eight employees at various times. In 2008, 2009 and 2010, Martin's business earned about $1.2 million in gross receipts, but Martin did not file any federal income tax returns for Martin Construction or for himself during those years and did not pay any federal income tax for either.

Feith reports Martin took steps to conceal the business revenue by directing payments and invoices for selling scrap metal to be made in the name of a third party. He also only deposited a small fraction of the income earned from Martin Construction into the business' bank account. Instead, Martin diverted a significant portion of the business income for personal expenditures. He also did not file any federal employment tax returns or pay over to the Internal Revenue Service (IRS) any federal employment taxes for any of his employees.

A federal grand jury indicted Martin on three counts of tax evasion in July 2014 and, on June 23, 2015, he pleaded guilty to those charges.

This case was investigated by special agents of the IRS – Criminal Investigation and the Office of the Inspector General for the Environmental Protection Agency. It was prosecuted by Assistant United States Attorney Mark S. Zuckerman and Senior Litigation Counsel Corey J. Smith of the Department of Justice's Tax Division.

The conviction is the most recent entry to Martin's criminal record, which dates back to at least 1975 and includes conviction and incarceration for eight counts of aggravated felonious sexual assault (1993), as well as charges of issuing bad checks, criminal threatening, disorderly conduct and cruelty to animals.

In 2006 and 2007 several fires at a salvage yard Martin owned in Alton were deemed suspicious by authorities but no charges were filed.

In 2008 he was investigated when 1,000 gallons of heating oil were dumped into Kimball Brook in Gilmanton, which flows into Rocky Pond. The truck carrying the oil was owned by Martin's nephew and was parked on property Martin owned when the dumping occurred. But again no charges were filed.

A year later Martin was charged with five misdemeanors for alleged unlawful dumping in the township of Northumberland in Coos County.

A year ago he was charged with arson and insurance fraud relating to a 2012 fire at a home to owned in Northfield.



No short-term solution for Jewett Brook flooding

LACONIA — Although Jewett Brook again jumped its banks and flooded properties at the foot of Winter Street during Wednesday's 5-inch rainfall, Luke Powell, assistant director of Public Works, said yesterday there is no prospect of reducing the risk of flooding in the foreseeable future.

Since 2008 Powell has sought to restore Jewett Brook, which would increase its capacity to carry optimal volumes of water while diminishing the risk of flooding. He took the initiative after Normandin Square flooded four times in three years —in October, 2005, in May and July, 2006 and again in April 2007. Since then Normandin Square has been spared, but, like this week, yards and cellars on Winter Street have filled with water a number of times.

Jewett Brook rises in Gilford, not far south of Swain Road, and flows northward to Liberty Hill Road, where it is fed by a tributary meandering southwest from Saltmarsh Pond. Paralleling Liberty Hill Road, the brook passes beneath County Club Road and the Rte. 3 and 11 Bypass and crosses the Lakes Business Park. At Hounsell Avenue, just south of the northern entrance to the park on Gilford Avenue, the main stem of the brook is joined by a major tributary that originates to the northeast, on the north side of Route 11-A about halfway between the bypass and Hoyt Road. From there the brook runs westward, roughly parallel to Gilford Avenue, skirts Tardiff Park and runs under Highland Street and Union Avenue before passing under the Normandin Square Apartments and Davis Place from where it empties into the Winnipesaukee River some 250 yards above the Avery Dam.
The brook, along with its major and minor tributaries, stretches for about five miles, with the main stem and its major tributary representing 3.5 miles. Its watershed covers 5.4 square miles, most of it in Gilford. Less than a mile of the brook flows through the city. Likewise, a small fraction of the watershed of Jewett Brook, which extends from downtown Laconia in the west to Hoyt Road in the east and north of Gilford Avenue south to the Belmont town line, lies within the city limits.
Following the flooding in 2007, the Department of Public Works (DPW) was awarded $100,000 in federal funding with which it underwrote two studies, one of the entire 5.4-square-mile watershed of Jewett Brook and another of the stretch from upstream of the Union Avenue Bridge to the Winnipesaukee River, a distance of about 1,200 feet.

The first study concluded that the main stem of Jewett Brook east of the bypass was "good", but found the condition of the stretch through the city, from the bypass to the river, only fair.

The second study, prepared by Dubois & King, Inc., found the capacity of the stream bed under the Union Avenue bridge, the dimensions of which have been shrunk by accumulated sediment, to be the principal choke point. The engineers concluded that neither widening the bridge nor raising the roadway would be practical and recommended dredging the channel beneath Union Avenue as the most cost-effective means reducing the frequency of flooding.

However, dredging requires a permit from the New Hampshire Department of Environmental Services (DES). The agency has insisted that before seeking a permit to dredge, the city must first take to restore the capacity of the brook and reduce the flow of sediments upstream of the bridge and elsewhere in the watershed.

Powell said that DPW secured a $40,000 federal grant through DES to begin work upstream of the bridge. He said the department sought to negotiate an easement with the owner of the property adjacent to the bridge, which originally housed a Catholic school and was most recently a branch office of TD Bank, to restore the channel, but failed to reach agreement. Consequently, last year DES rescinded the grant.

Powell said that without the resources to undertake the improvements upstream that DES requires, efforts to alleviate the flooding are at a standstill. "Right now, there is nothing we can do," he said.