LACONIA — The battle between Marshall and Carol Bishop, the owners of the Gilmanton Winery, and the Gilmanton Planning Board escalated into a full-blown legal war on Nov. 18 when the board issued a cease-and-desist order against the business.
After receiving the order on Nov. 22, the Bishops' attorney filed for an emergency temporary restraining order against the Planning Board on Nov. 23 in Belknap County Superior Court, saying that forcing the winery to close for the Thanksgiving holiday would cost his client money as he had already booked seatings for the day.
The two parties declared a court-sanctioned cease fire when the Bishops agreed to withdraw their motion for an emergency restraining order and the Planning Board agreed not to pursue any cease-and-desist order until the court decides on the merits of a preliminary injunction or request to stop an action, which the judge has ordered the Bishops to file before Dec. 9. Once filed, it is expected the town will reply, unless an agreement is reached beforehand.
According to the request for the restraining order, the Bishops have been running the Gilmanton Winery, in the former home of late author Grace Metalious, since 2011. They provided the court with Planning Board minutes from June 9, 2011, in which they say the Planning Board granted them final approval of a site plan.
Quotations from the minutes include "all permitting both state and local have been obtained" and that the application was "granted final approval, as it appears to meet all of the technical requirements of the ordinances and regulations of the Town of Gilmanton."
Recently though, the validity and finality of the site plan has come into question. In addition, the Bishops had been operating a restaurant without the "special exception" to the zoning ordinance they needed to do so. Marshall Bishop went before the town's Zoning Board of Adjustments a few months ago and received his special exception in a 4 to 1 vote.
However, according the to minutes of the Oct. 13 Planning Board meeting, Planning Board Vice-Chair Martin Martindale recommended that Bishop submit a new site plan application and begin the planning process anew. He went on to say that should the Bishops not file a new site plan by Nov. 10, the board should issue a cease-and-desist order that would stop him from operating. A motion to that effect passed by a 9 to 0 vote.
The Bishops say that for the five years their winery has been open, they have operated a thriving business. They also claim that when Marshall Bishop defeated former Selectman Brett Currier in the 2016 election for a one-year seat for selectman, Currier and his wife took out their own personal grudges on him and his business. He also claims that Planning Board Chair Wayne Ogni is a friend of the Curriers.
Legally, he claims that he has complied with all of the laws, regulations and ordinances of Gilmanton and the state and that he is willing to amicably address any "well-founded" concerns the Planning Board may have.
At the Oct. 13 Planning Board meeting, Bishop was asked to attend but sent a letter asking what specific information the Planning Board sought in regard to any violations of the laws and ordinances. He did not attend.
Bishop's attorney responded by saying that without knowing what specific laws or ordinances were being violated, having his client submit a complete new site plan was "premature."
Bishop's lawyer followed up with a second letter asking why the town had not responded to his first request for specific violations regarding the winery. He said the business was receiving letters of concern from its customers and that the Planning Board's actions were starting to harm the business, because people were reluctant to make reservations for the holidays since the board threatened to shut them down.
He restated that the Bishops desire to work with the Planning Board but said that his clients were willing to go to court to if the board continues to harm the business.
The Planning Board's attorney replied on Nov. 18 that the board insists that Bishop doesn't have an approved site plan and that when Bishop was told he needed to provide additional information, he replied that he was in full compliance. That letter contained the cease-and-desist order that was temporarily negated by both parties with the approval of the court.
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