GILFORD — Just what "agritourism" and "agriculture" mean has been at the heart of a zoning dispute over weddings and other events at a farm, so there will be several warrant articles on those topics for voters to consider at Town Meeting this spring.
One petitioned article would change the definition of agriculture to include agritourism, and if that passes, the Planning Board has proposed three more articles to regulate such activities.
The first would make agritourism events subject to nuisance regulations. The second would amend the table of proposed outdoor uses and would require agritourism events to get a special exception from the Zoning Board for each event. The third establishes regulations and parameters the Zoning Board should consider when reviewing requests for special exceptions.
"What we're doing here is accommodating [agritourism] if petitioned [Warrant Article 3] passes and to be able to stand alone if it doesn't," said board Chairman John Morgenstern.
The agritourism discussion and controversy in Gilford arose when the Howe family of Timber Hill Farm on Gunstock Hill Road began hosting weddings and other outdoor private events on their property and a neighbor complained. By declining to enforce a cease-and-desist order, the Zoning Board of Adjustments, according to its members and attorney, determined that agritourism was part of agriculture.
Much of the internal controversy comes from the Planning Board's decision last month, on the advice of its attorney, to refuse to review a site plan proposal because its members contend that agritourism is not allowed under the town's definition of agriculture. The ZBA has since disallowed that decision and a Planning Board site plan review for Timber Hill Farm is scheduled for Jan. 19.
Specifically, if the Planning Board-generated zoning ordinances pass, any agritourism event that will have more than 100 people, including hosts, employees and guests, will need a special exception from the Zoning Board. The town's proposal also requires that any agritourism with 100 or more people for wedding-type events adhere to all fire and police regulations including traffic control at its own expense, that all outdoor lighting be shielded, and that agriculture generate $1,000 or more of annual revenue.
In addition and the topic of much of the discussion Monday night, was a 500-foot setback requirement from the home on an abutter.
Selectboard representative Chan Eddy said he was opposed to a hard and fast rule on the setback and would prefer to see a range of feet to accommodate all kinds of property.
"Having a hard coded number means less work for both the town and the applicant," he said during a phone interview Tuesday.
Morgenstern said he would solicit written input from the board members until today (Wednesday) when he would instruct Ayer to redraft the proposed warrant. Those written comments, according to RSA 91-A or the state's Right to Know laws will be public.
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