Agritourism debate continues as Timber Hill Farm owners file request (366)

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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Children's Auction has third best year ever

Community support was strong, with the 33rd annual Greater Lakes Region Children's Auction raising almost a half million dollars for needy childen in the Lakes Region last week. The proceeds will be distributed among the 65 applicants as early as next week according to Mike Seymour, chairman of the Greater Lakes Region Charitable Fund for Children, the nonprofit organization which earlier this year took over ownership of the auction.
Seymour said he was humbled by the success of his year's auction and the efforts of nearly 100 volunteers who helped the auction raise $469,609, the third highest total ever, as well as the outpouring of community support from the public, which continued to respond by donating and bidding on the more than 2,000 auction items during the five-day event.
"We definitely went into this with the goal of more local control and were a little concerned over whether the level of local support would be maintained. But once it gained momentum, it was like a snowball rolling down a mountain and picking up more speed as it went along," said Seymour.
He said the board of directors of the auction will meet Thursday with the Disbursement Committee, which has reviewed the requests for $700,000 from community organizations and will recommend how much each organization will receive.
"We'll be going over the recommendations in detail and some checks will be in the mail as early as Friday. By early next week, we expect all of the checks will have been mailed so that they can get to the organizations by Christmas," said Seymour.
Last year, the Children's Auction raised $486,575 and in 2013 raised a record $510,801.
Seymour noted that this year's Pub Mania raised $240,125, more than half of the entire amount raised in the auction.
"That shows the need for us to step it up on the other side. What Patrick's Pub has done for the auction is phenomenal," said Seymour.
Pub Mania has raised $1,037,125 for the auction in the seven years it has been run, and this year set a new record, topping last year's $235,595 total.
Alan Beetle, co-owner of Patrick's Pub, said he is amazed by the work of the 30 teams and their captains in being able to reach out into the community to find support for the event, which involves 720 people in a 24-hour barstool challenge.
"They're motivated and committed and have lots of fun while they're doing something good for the children of the Lakes Region," said Beetle, who pointed out that the teams run a variety of events year-round in order to raise funds.
Top fundraisers were Bonnette, Page & Stone, $27,388; Café Déjà Vu, $21,096; LCC 19th Hole, $16,032; Winnipesaukee Yacht Club Diving Ducks $12,068; Dream Team Supreme, $11,902; Blue Angels, $11,184, Kings Corner, $8,838; Sotheby's Sippers, $8,407; Naughty & Nice, $8,222 and the Merry Stoolers, $7,859.
He said the teams will be honored at a Jan. 7 event at Patrick's Pub.

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Lingering loons (624)

MOULTONBOROUGH — It's been an unusually warm start to December, which may be keeping snowbirds around a bit later. Those local residents that have delayed their annual escape to a winter home in a warmer climate might be noticing another of the region's summer faithful – loons – also seem to be sticking around later than usual.
In fact, that's not the case, according to John Cooley, biologist at the Loon Preservation Committee in Moultonborough. Loons generally leave the lakes where they spend the spring, summer and fall by a schedule that is encoded in their DNA, not by changing temperature.

"The timing is hard-wired by instinct," he said.

Non-breeding adults may leave as early as August. Adults who have been rearing chicks will stay into October, or even late November.

"The juvenile loons tend to stay a little longer than the adults, and there always are a few juveniles and adults that push the envelope," said Cooley.
It's not unusual for lakes to still have loons this late into the year. It will be difficult for the casual birdwatcher to tell juvenile loons apart from adults, as both have gray and white plumage as opposed to the iconic black and white the bird is known for.
Much of the concern that onlookers experience can be traced back to the winter of 2006-2007, when over 20 loons were stranded on Winnipesaukee in late January after a very late ice-in caught them during their flightless mid-winter feather molt.

"People who have heard that story certainly know that there can be a problem," said Cooley.

Loons are evolved to be expert swimmers, with dense bodies and feet placed at the rear of their body. These adaptations make it unable for the bird to take off from a hard surface, and they need a long stretch of open water to take flight.

"In 99 percent of the cases, the lingering loon does take off," said Cooley, adding that the Loon Preservation Committee will look for signs of clear distress before attempting to intervene.
After the loons leave local lakes, they will spend their winters at the coast. Cooley said local birds will be found anywhere from the Maine coast to Cape Cod.
2015 has been a great year for the loon population on Lake Winnipesaukee. According to Cooley, there were 28 pairs of breeding adults, who produced 29 chicks. Of those chicks, 23 survived, making it the most successful breeding year in over a decade. Winnipesaukee currently has about half as many loons as what biologists estimate it would naturally have.

"We're in the midst of a slow, gradual and intensively managed recovery back to where it should be," he said.
However, serious threats to loons remain.

"We are continuing to see adult mortality from lead fishing tackle and boat strikes," he said.

Loons survive for decades and produce a couple of chicks per year, so Cooley said each adult bird is vital to the effort to repopulate the lakes. A single case of lead poisoning casts what he calls a "long shadow" on conservation efforts.
Loon conservationists, in the Lakes Region and throughout New Hampshire, are also beginning to fear that changing climate patterns could undo all their work. Early summer deluges, once rare in this region, are now becoming a frequent occurrence. Because loons nest at the shoreline, these heavy rain events can flood their nests, forcing adults to abandon their eggs or newly hatched chicks.
Warming temperatures could also drive the loons away. Cooley noted that in New Hampshire loons are at the southern extreme of the bird's geographical distribution. If average temperatures rise by a few degrees, he said, "There could well be effects on temperature and physiology of loons... Changing climate is likely to have a profound effect on the loon population."

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