GILFORD — The fight continues by Timber Hill Farm owners Andrew and Martine Howe to be allowed to host weddings and Farm to Table events on their property. They have submitted a request to the Zoning Board of Adjustments to overturn the Planning Board claim that it can control zoning through its ability to review site plans.
Attorney Patrick Wood said that under state law, among other things related to agriculture, "activities are a beneficial and worthwhile feature of the New Hampshire landscape and shall not be unreasonably limited by use of municipal planning and zoning powers or the the unreasonable interpretation of such powers." In other words, if the law doesn't address a certain use or specifically prohibit it, such agricultural activities would be allowed, not limited.
Last week, Planning Board members, after deciding they could exercise control over how zoning is interpreted through its site plan review powers, came to a 4-to-2 decision that agritourism – or the wedding and farm-to-table events proposed to be held in 2016 at Timber Hill Farm – is not agriculture.
The Planning Board adhered to a 2015 State Supreme Court decision that said agritourism was deliberately withheld from the state definition of "agriculture" and given its own definition.
The Howes have hosted a farm-to-table event annually since 2008, and had hosted some weddings at the same place on its property. Abutter Monique Twomey filed a complaint with the town saying the activities disrupted her peace and quiet and could possible devalue her property by as much as $200,000. The planning department issued a cease-and-desist order that the ZBA has twice refused to enforce.
During the ZBA's most recent meeting, its members determined that the intent of the vote was meant that weddings and other activities are allowed under the town of Gilford's existing zoning ordinances.
Wood contends that the Planning Board does not have the jurisdiction to apply a different interpretation to the town's zoning ordinances.
He also cited a second State Supreme Court case that enumerated the "law of the case," meaning that the prior determinations of the zoning issue controlled the zoning issues on appeal."
He said the "Planning Board's decision to ignore the prior decision of the ZBA's interpretation of the Gilford Zoning Ordinance's definition of agriculture as it applies to the [Howes'] property is improper, unlawful and illegal and should not be upheld.
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