ZBA chairman forced to step down from hearing
By THOMAS P. CALDWELL, LACONIA DAILY SUN
GILFORD — The chairman of the Gilford Zoning Board of Adjustment recused himself from hearing an appeal involving a family friend only after Attorney Jason Dennis demanded that he do so.
Board chairman Scott Davis maintained that he could impartially hear the appeal, despite his close connections with Andrew and Martina Howe.
Ryan and Koleen Crawford had filed the appeal, claiming that the Gilford Planning Board made an improper decision when it approved the Howes' site plan for farm-to-table events at their farm off Gunstock Hill Road.
Davis acknowledged having known the Howes for 40 years and being members with them in the Winnipesaukee Yacht Club; his children worked at the Howes’ farm stand; and Andrew Howe and Davis’ wife had attended high school together.
“But we have no business relationships that would cause me to be biased,” Davis said.
Resident Bill Seed took the microphone to say that even the appearance of a relationship should be enough for Davis to step down. Seed then submitted photographs of Davis vacationing with the Howes in Martinique and said, “This is a total disregard of your responsibilities to the board and the residents of Gilford.”
Davis cautioned, “If I step down, you’ll have only four members to vote on your request.” The Zoning Board’s vice chairman, Stephan Nix, did not attend the hearing.
“In the interests of propriety, I’ll make that request official,” said Dennis.
With Bill Knightly assuming the chairman’s position for the hearing, Dennis argued that the Planning Board’s decision should be overturned because a mediated agreement between the Howes and abutter Monique Twomey did not address a Superior Court decision affirming that the town was misapplying the zoning ordinances in allowing agritourism activities in a residential district.
Twomey had brought the case to Belknap County Superior Court after the Zoning Board had allowed the Howes’ application for site plan review to go forward. After the town passed an ordinance to include agritourism in its definition of agriculture, presiding justice James O’Neill reaffirmed that the underlying discussions had been based on the definition of agriculture, which he said was unchanged by the revised definition.
Twomey also had appealed the town's decision favoring the Howes to the New Hampshire Supreme Court, which ordered mediation. That mediation settled issues between Twomey and the Howes, but Dennis argued that the same issues remain with other abutters, including his clients, the Crawfords.
Dennis said that, in filing the mediated agreement with the Supreme Court, Twomey and the Howes also filed a request to vacate the Superior Court decision, which he said proved that the lower court decision was still in effect.
Dennis said he had filed a motion with the Supreme Court to reaffirm that Superior Court decision.
Attorney Ethan Wood, representing the Howes, asked the Zoning Board to table the appeal until the Supreme Court issued its ruling.
“If they approve our motion, the use issue becomes moot,” he said.
The board agreed and continued the public hearing 4 p.m. on Dec. 19. If a court decision has not come down by then, members plan to continue the hearing to another date.