GILFORD — Defining what agritourism is became urgent for the Planning Board with deadlines looming for the March ballot, so the board held an emergency meeting Wednesday where it approved a definition of agritourism that will make it difficult for Andrew and Martina Howe to host weddings and other events at Timber Hill Farm.
While the proposed ordinance, which will appear on the town ballot, does not specifically exclude weddings and other similar events, it would prohibit the serving or consumption of alcoholic beverages and playing live or amplified music.
"We're trying to, at least to some extent, satisfy the rights of Andy Howe, of all farmers and of the abutters," said Morgenstern yesterday morning.
"We've taken into account what's gone before, and the petitioned warrant article," he continued, referring to a warrant article spearheaded by the Howes that offers a different version of the definition of agritourism.
Agritourism, agriculture and what each means has been controversial in Gilford because the Howes wish to continue to host weddings on their farm on Gunstock Hill Road. Neighbor Monique Twomey filed a complaint and the town code enforcement officer issued a cease-and-desist order that the Zoning Board twice refused to uphold.
In addition, Twomey has filed suit against the town claiming the Zoning Board made an unlawful decision when it denied her the opportunity to present additional testimony at a rehearing of its decision not to enforce the cease-and-desist order.
The proposed Planning Board-generated ordinance that will go on the ballot reads: "The term "agritourism" means attracting visitors to a working farm for the purpose of eating a meal, enjoyment of the farm environment, education of farm operations, or active involvement in the activity of the farm which is ancillary to the farm operation."
The Planning Board also defines what farmers can't do in a residential district as well, by saying owners or operators of farms shall not have lighting beyond the tent or barn that holds these events and that they shall hold their events in "a discrete area" but limit the number of total people at the event to 250. They can't have any single event earlier than 8 a.m. or later than 10 p.m.
In addition, farmers can't hold more than two events in any calendar week nor shall they hold more than 20 events in any calendar year. The Planning Board also prohibits events in which a third party is paying the owner or operator of a farm for the use of a farm property.
In the Planning Board's version of its ordinance, agritourism is allowed in all zones with the exception of the island residential zone.
The proposed ordinance includes an "open space" section that includes agritourism as an allowed event, provided there is a 500-foot setback from any off-site home. It also makes the owner of the property responsible for all federal, state and local laws and fire codes, for alcohol consumption on the property and for controlling any music or amplified speech so as not to be a nuisance to the neighbors.
Attorney Patrick Wood, who represents the Howes, said yesterday that the process by which the Planning Board created this ordinance is "extraordinary and not in keeping with a standard process for considering and proposing zoning ordinances."
Wood said that the normal process for zoning changes takes months, starts with suggested language, goes through public hearings, and many changes.
"The question is," said Wood, "If this is so important, then why is it being rushed through?"
Atty. Joseph Driscoll IV represents Twomey and said yesterday he wasn't ready to comment on the latest Planning Board proposed ordinance.
The Planning Board meets again on Jan. 19 at 7 p.m., when there will be a public hearing. At this meeting, votes will taken as to whether the Planning Board supports its own recommended ordinances and whether or not it supports ordinances submitted by petition, including two from the Howe family, that will also be on the ballot.