Agritourism issues prompt Gilford to propose new zoning rules

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.

Couple injured, pets die in city house fire Tuesday

chinchillaGilford firefighter Nick Proulx administers oxygen to revive “Zippy,” a chinchilla caged in the basement, who overcame smoke inhalation as the only one of three pets to survive a fire that heavily damaged a ranch at the corner of Elm Street and Massachusetts Avenue yesterday.(Laconia Daily Sun photo/Michael Kitch)

LACONIA — A man suffered second-degree burns and his wife was taken with smoke inhalation as they sought to spare their pets from a fire that broke out at their home at 419 Elm St. shortly after 1 p.m. Tuesday. While two cats perished, firefighters rescued and resuscitated “Zippy,” a chinchilla overcome by smoke.

Fire Chef Ken Erickson said the fire was reported at 1:14 p.m. and within four minutes Lieutenant Jay Ellingson and his crew of five arrived to find heavy fire from a one-story ranch with attached garage at the corner of Elm Street and Massachusetts Avenue. Ellingson requested a first alarm and was soon joined by another eight off-duty firefighters, who were attending an emergency medical services class at Central Station, with an engine and an ambulance as well as crews Gilford, Belmont, Tilton and Meredith.

Ellingson’s crew ran two hoses, one through the front porch to extinguish the main body of the fire and another through a front door to stop the fire from spreading through the house. Erickson said that the fire started on the porch alongside the garage, blew out a window, broke into a breezeway and shattered a glass door. The heat melted a ceiling fan and window shades in the adjoining room, which the flames did not reach. But, fire had climbed to the attic and run down a hallway toward the kitchen, where t was licking at the cabinets, when it was brought under control with in 20 minutes. Erickson said that because the door was closed a bedroom at the rear of the home escaped with little damage, a reminder of why to sleep with the doors closed.
Both the husband and wife re-entered the house during the fire to rescue their pets. Though they were safely outside when firefighters arrived, both were taken to Lakes Region General Hospital where the man was treated for burns to his head and the woman for smoke inhalation. Erickson said the woman told him she was amazed at how fast the fire spread and stressed that “the lesson here is get out and stay out.”
Erickson estimated the value of the damage at $70,000, but added he expected the figure to rise.
Meanwhile, standing in the cold, her chinchilla wrapped in a throw and clutched to her chest, the woman said “I may have to call him Smokey.”

Members of closed swim club likely won’t get full refunds

LACONIA — Members of the now defunct Laconia Athletic and Swim Club will have to wait a while for refunds from their membership dues and will likely not get a full refund, said the head of the Consumer Protection arm of the New Hampshire State Attorney’s Office Monday.
Attorney James Boffetti said owners Tom and Lori Oakley are working to provide his office a complete list of members and the amount of money each is owed. There is a $50,000 bond; however, he said the total amount owed to members likely exceeds that.
“The bond is made out to the state of New Hampshire,” said Boffetti.
Once he has the total amount owed to former members, he said he will petition the court for release of the bond to his office. The proceeds will be prorated according to the amount each former member is owed and distributed accordingly.
State law says that any health club owner shall take out a bond for $50,000 to financially protect members who pay dues to any health club that fails. Boffetti said $50,000 is the state-required maximum for a health club bond for refund liability.
He said he doesn’t foresee any reason why a judge would release the money to the state for redistribution, although he said the process will take three or four months at a minimum.
The Laconia Athletic and Swim Club closed abruptly on Thanksgiving Day after operating for 34 years in its location on North Main Street. The Oakleys told former members in an email that he expected the club to reopen soon, although they were looking for investors.
Boffetti said the law protecting consumers who pay up front for memberships at health clubs was passed in 1983. He said the goal was to offer some protection to people who pay up-front club dues, and the effect has been to move health clubs away from long-term contracts.
“Usually if [health clubs] do [memberships] from month-to-month they don’t have to have a bond,” Boffetti said.
The Laconia Athletic and Swim Club had stopped taking year-long memberships before they failed. Oakley said there were 63 full- and part-time employees.