Gilford woman again challenges definition of agritourism

By GAIL OBER, LACONIA DAILY SUN

LACONIA — A woman whose property is next door to the spot where a local farm has proposed to have a wedding venue has asked a Belknap County Superior Court judge to "offer a definitive definition of 'agriculture' and 'agritourism.'"

In her most recent petition against the town of Gilford, Monique Twomey of Gunstock Hill Road said the decision by the Zoning Board of Adjustments not to uphold a cease-and-desist order issued by the town building inspection that would have stopped Timber Hill Farm from hosting weddings at that site was based on the town's former definition of agriculture, which she claims was ambiguous.

The challenge she posed to the ZBA's first decision not to enforce the order was dismissed as untimely by Judge James O'Neill; however, he left the door open a crack when he wrote that she could pursue her appeal through a petition for declaratory judgment, or a request the court define the legal parameters within with which two adversaries can proceed. A petition like this is barred by a time limit like the ZBA appeal was.

But what any decision means for Andy and Martina Howe and their proposed wedding venue venture in the long run remains muddy.

A bipartisan bill first introduced in the state Senate has now passed both the Senate and the House but with amendments. District 7 Sen. Andrew Hosmer (D-Gilford), who is one of the sponsors of the bill, said the Senate has not decided whether or not it will accept the bill as amended by the House but said they will look at it next week.

If both houses agree with the changes to the original bill made by each respective body, the bill will go to the governor's office. If there is no agreement, it will be referred to a committee of conference where the differences will be hammered out – or not.

The current law, which separates agritourism and agriculture, was passed in its final version in 2015 after a committee of conference agreed the two should be separated.

The current law is also the law Twomey says the ZBA misinterpreted when it decided a second time to not to enforce the cease-and- desist order. In its decision, the board determined that agritourism is the same thing as agriculture, which Twomey says is incorrect. She referenced a 2015 ruling made by the New Hampshire Supreme Court in a case in Henniker where the plaintiff was trying to host wedding venues at a Christmas tree farm and the court said it wasn't allowed.

Twomey is also saying that the Gilford town ordinance governing "agriculture" during this period said "other commercial activities" after defining narrowly what types of activities are allowed with words that refer only to growing produce – "orchard, vegetable garden and nursery," and with words that refer to raising livestock – "dairy farm, commercial animals and livestock."

She says there is a rule or general principal in the law that says if the above activities are listed after a word, in this case "agriculture," then the "other commercial activities" must interpreted by its most narrow meaning.

The town attorney used this principal, the town ordinance and the state law plus the Henniker decision to initially determine that the board couldn't hear a site plan review from the Howes because it was not a permissible use, said Twomey.

Twomey said that when the ZBA chose to depart from this principal and adopt a broader interpretation of agriculture and define agritourism as agriculture "their decision ... (was) illegal as the true definition of 'agriculture' in the town ordinance (was) ambiguous."

To further muddy the waters, when ordered to do so by the Board of Selectmen, the Planning Board granted the Howes site plan approval to move forward with their wedding venue proposal. Twomey also filed a suit in Superior Court challenging the site plan approval, which automatically puts it on hold until the suit can be legally resolved.

After all this, the town adopted a new ordinance that includes a definition of agritourism within the definition of agriculture making it an allowed use with restrictions to be applied by the Planning Board board during individual site plan reviews.

As of yesterday, the town of Gilford has not responded to the latest pleading. It is not known if the Howes will ask to intervene as they have in the previous three suits filed by Twomey.

Three iconic downtown Laconia buildings go up for sale

By MICHAEL KITCH, LACONIA DAILY SUN

LACONIA — Three buildings that have contributed to defining downtown for the past century were listed for sale this week — the Pemaco Building at 622-634 Main St., the Cook Building next door at 610-618 Main St., and the triangular McIntyre Block at 12 Pleasant St.

All three buildings were purchased by Dwight Barton in 2007, but are now in receivership and managed by RE/MAX Bayside, which has listed them for sale.

Pemaco building 2016Built in 1926, the Pemaco Building is the youngest of the three. The building offers 19,115 square feet of space on three floors, the second of which is dominated by the Garden Theater with seating capacity for 500 people. There are five commercial units on the ground floor and apartments on the top floor. The building, which the city has assessed for $161,300 is listed at $299,900.

Downtown building 2016The Cook Building, built in 1898, is also a three-story block similar in profile and proportion to its neighbor. Its 17,316 square feet are divided among four commercial units on the ground floor and 10 one-bedroom apartments and a studio on the upper floors. The building is listed for $499,900 and is assessed for $460,500.

McIntyre building 2016The McIntyre Block, built in 1914 at what was the junction of Pleasant Street and Water Street on the west side of Bank Square, is the largest of the three with 30,308 square feet, including a 3,330-square-foot garage and 6,652-square-foot basement. It houses nine commercial units on the ground floor along Pleasant Street and the abandoned stretch of Water Street known as Vintage Row. There are 21 one-bedroom apartments on the two upper stories. Listed for $1,175,000, the building has an assessed value of $748,100.

Sanbornton man guilty on drug charges

CONCORD — Michael Smith, 35, of Sanbornton pleaded guilty in U.S. District Court for the District of New Hampshire to a federal indictment charging him with eight counts of distribution and one count of conspiracy to distribute the Schedule I controlled substance heroin and the Schedule II controlled substance fentanyl, said U.S. Attorney Emily Gray Rice.
During a law enforcement investigation, a cooperating individual purchased heroin and/or fentanyl from the defendant on eight occasions. Lab results have confirmed that over 20 grams of the substance purchase contained fentanyl, over 57 grams contained heroin and over 19 grams contained a mixture of heroin and fentanyl. Smith obtained controlled substances from multiple sources and distributed to multiple customers, participating in the conspiracy since at least June 2015.
Smith's plea agreement includes a binding stipulated sentence of 96 months' incarceration. A sentencing hearing has been scheduled for July 27 in front of U.S. District Judge Paul J. Barbadoro. At that time, the court will decide whether to accept the plea agreement and impose the agreed-upon period of incarceration, as well as any other conditions of Smith's sentence.
The case was investigated by the New Hampshire Attorney General's Drug Task Force and the Drug Enforcement Administration. The Drug Task Force for this case included law enforcement representatives from the Merrimack County Sheriff's Office, the Franklin Police Department, the Concord Police Department and the New Hampshire Liquor Commission. The case is being prosecuted by Assistant U.S. Attorneys Georgiana L. Konesky.