Political signs can be placed in public rights of way, but only with the actual property owner's permission

LACONIA — Although there are less than a handful of competitive races on the ballot for the municipal election on Tuesday, in the waning days of the campaign signs touting individual candidates have begun to disappear from places they, legally, do not belong.

This week signs have been removed from the roundabout at The Weirs as well as traffic islands and road sides elsewhere in the city.

Chapter 109-1 of the City Code, entitled "advertising", stipulates that "the placing of billboards or advertising signs and the posting of bills, posters, notices or other forms of advertising on any bridge, building or other municipal property of this city are hereby forbidden." City Manager Scott Myers said yesterday that he understands the ordinance to require that political signs be placed only on private property with the consent of the property owner.

Likewise, state law (RSA 664:17), reads "no political advertising shall be placed on or affixed to any public property including highway rights-of-way or private property without the owner's consent." However, the statute continues to say that "political advertising may be placed within state-owned rights-of way as along as the advertising does not obstruct the safe flow of traffic and the advertising is placed with the consent of the owner of the land over which the right-of-way passes."

Furthermore, state law forbids any person, other than private property owners or law enforcement officials, from removing, defacing or destroying political
advertising improperly placed on either public or private property. The statute requires signs removed by public officials before the election to be kept at a designated location for one week after the election where they can be recovered by candidates.

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City officially responds to lawsuit brought by Blizzard

LACONIA — The city this week responded to the lawsuit brought by Erica Blizzard, the owner of Lakeport Landing marina, challenging the decision of the City Council to sell the property at 21 Elm Street, which her marina leased from the city for 30 years, to neighoring Irwin Marine.

Blizzard, who is represented by Bron Bedard of Concord, bases her case on two major claims. First, she contends that in 2005 the council granted her late father, Paul Blizzard, a "right of first refusal should the city ever choose to sell the property. She also claims that City Manager Scott Myers exceeded the authority granted him by the council when, rather than conducting "informal conversations" with both marinas about the conditions of a sale, he solicited the "highest and best offers" from each in a letter he said was not "a comprehensive bid document". Blizzard has asked the court to rescind the action of the council and remand the issue back to the council with instructions that any sale must comply with chapter 183 of the city code.

In response, attorney Walter Mitchell, representing the city, countered that there is no evidence that the council ever granted Paul Blizzard a "right of first refusal" to purchase the property. There is no mention of such a decision in the minutes of the council and a video recording of the meeting during which the grant was allegedly conferred indicate that no such discussion took place and no such decision was made.

Mitchell explains that Chapter 183 of the city code provides two procedures for selling city property, either by sealed competitive bids or "by a process without general advertisement, when an unsolicited offer is received." When Blizzard, anticipating that the lease would expire and could not be renewed, offered to purchase the property, the city followed the second course by declaring the property "surplus" and commissioning an appraisal.

Meanwhile, the city received a second unsolicited offer from Irwin Marine. Mitchell argues that when the council met on May 26 it rejected both unsolicited offers and agreed that "the City Manager was to proceed with discussions with each entity to seek how much each was really willing to pay, rather than begin a general advertised competitive bid process."

On June 1, the City Manager wrote to both Blizzard of Lakeport Landing and Bruce Wright of Irwin Marine, reminding them that the appraised value of the property exceeded their offers and asking that their "highest and best offers" be returned to him by 4 p.m. on June 8. Mitchell notes that although the appraised value of $480,000 was known to both parties, Blizzard submitted her original offer of $331.400 while Irwin Marine offered $528,000, which the council accepted.

Meanwhile, attorney Bedard, acting for Blizzard, has objected to the request of Irwin Marine to intervene in the litigation. Earlier this month attorney Joseph Driscoll, IV, representing Irwin Marine, claimed that it is an interested party since the council accepted its offer to purchase the property and authorized a purchase-and-sales agreement, which has yet to be concluded. The firm has placed funds in an escrow account in anticipation of closing the transaction.

In objecting to Irwin Marine's intervention, Bedard insists that the only question posed by the litigation is "whether the city followed lawful procedures in selling its property." He stresses that Blizzard is not asking the court to compel the city to sell her the property, but instead to remand the issue to the council with instructions to conduct the transaction in accord with the city code. Bedard claims Irwin Marine has no "right" at issue and its interests would not be at risk if its request to intervene were denied.
A structuring conference in the case is schedule on November 15.

On Monday of this week, City Council authorized Myers to sign a new, 2-year lease for 21 Elm Street with Blizzard. A condition of the city's sale to Irwin was that Blizzard have up to two additional years to make other arrangements before her competitor takes title to the property.

Lakeport Landing's 30-year lease expires on Saturday night. As per the terms of that lease, at midnight the city becomes the owner of the 9,000-square-foot showroom building Paul Blizzard built back in the 1980s.

Agritourism fastest growing part of state's agriculture scene

GILFORD — Agritourism, the fastest growing part of New Hampshire's agriculture scene today, contributes up to one third of the $935 million in farm revenues in the state according to a recent Plymouth State University study.
Agritourism has been seen as a way to ensure economic viability for New Hampshire's remaining working farms and was outlined by Gov. John Lynch's 2005 New Hampshire Farm Viability Task Force, which called for a comprehensive set of amendments to the New Hampshire agriculture and land use statutes to relax local land use restrictions on farmers and create a uniform set of rules to protect farmers and agricultural lands on a statewide basis.
Those recommendations were adopted in 2007 when the legislature enacted House Bill 56, with the intent to promote the growth of agriculture in the State. As part of House Bill 56, the legislature amended RSA 21:34-a, which defines the word "agriculture" and in doing so defined the word "agritourism."
The statute defines "agritourism" as "attracting visitors to a working farm for the purpose of eating a meal, making overnight stays, enjoyment of the farm environment, education on farm operations, or active involvement in the activity of the farm which is ancillary to the farm operation."
But a state Supreme Court decision earlier this year in the case of a Henniker Christmas tree farm which wanted to host weddings and educational seminars fund that "agritourism" was not included in the definition of "agriculture" under RSA 21:34-a. The court said that the definition of "agriculture" under RSA 21:34-a not only included "operations of a farm," but also encompassed practices "incident to" and "in conjunction with" farming operations.
The decision was cited by the town of Gilford when a 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 Gunstock Hill Road property of Andy and Martina Howe which it was 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 and also said that the order posed a threat to their livelihood and the very idea of agri-tourism events
Earlier this month the town's Zoning Board of Adjustment, by a 3-1 vote, granted the Howes' appeal of the cease and desist order.
Bills are being drafted in the House and Senate that seek more explicit protection for agritourism according to Senator Andrew Hosmer (D-Laconia), who said Sen. David Boutin, R-Hooksett, and Rep. Robert Haefner, R-Hudson, are leading the efforts in their respective chambers.
Hosmer says that he thinks it is important that the Howes be able to offer agritourism events and wants to see legislation which will protect that right while also maintaining the regulatory power of local planning boards.
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 five years, and more recently the site of weddings which are described as part of an agritourism business of the Howes.
Atty. Patrick Wood, who represents the Howes, maintained at the ZBA 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.
Last week they presented a site plan for their Gunstock Hill Road to the town's Planning Department, which tabled it pending a site walk of the property today. The plan envisions construction of a timber-frame barn for hosting events and an irrigation pond and seeks one more summer of use of the current farm-to-table events site.