By GAIL OBER, LACONIA DAILY SUN
GILMANTON — There is no desire to hurt any business in town, Planning Board Chairman Wayne Ogni told Selectman Marshall Bishop Thursday night, including Bishop's business, the Gilmanton Winery & Vineyard and alpaca farm.
After reviewing a package prepared for the board regarding the various permits and permissions granted to the winery and farm since 2010, Ogni said it appears Bishop has town permission for a function hall and wine tasting, not a restaurant, but that the plans were never recorded.
"We want to get this straightened away for you," Ogni said.
Bishop, who was elected to be a selectman in March, has been under fire by a small cadre of detractors for not having the proper town permits, including the need for a special exception or a variance to operate a restaurant in a rural zone.
His meeting with the Planning Board on Thursday was to confirm with them that he is working with the Planning Department staff to bring all of his paperwork up to date.
Bishop told the board he had been operating for six years and wanted to know "Why now?" to which Ogni replied, "It was brought to our attention and we want to treat everyone fairly."
Bishop left, but Brett and Brenda Currier said they thought they were on the agenda that night and wanted to address the board.
Brenda Currier spoke regarding a directional sign for the Gilmanton Winery that had been on her mother's property. When she asked for the sign to be removed, she said it showed up on the property next to hers. In her opinion, a directional sign must have a permit from one of the town's land boards.
Ogni said the Planning Board is working with a land use attorney regarding the sign and all of the rest of the things the Curriers had brought to their attention.
Currier said Bishop's permit to operate the winery was granted by the Planning Board in June 9, 2011, but with the condition that the site plan be finalized and recorded, which Ogni agreed hadn't happened.
Brett Currier said he felt he and his wife have been "getting the runaround" for the past two months and that nothing is being done.
"The select(board) should have done its job and shut this down," Brett Currier continued. "We're letting a sitting selectman wait for months. I don't understand."
Things heated up a bit when former Selectman Nate Abbott, who served from 2000 to 2006, said the town traditionally gives leeway to residents who are trying to work with the town.
He said he recalled a resident who paved a road years ago when he shouldn't have, and the town worked with him to get the necessary permits.
Brett Currier stood and faced Abbott and said, "Are you talking about me?"
Abbott, also standing, said that all he was saying is that as long as someone acts in good faith the town should continue to work with them.
"If he's accusing me of that (unlawfully paving his driveway), it's a blatant lie," Currier continued while Ogni told him to calm down and sit down, which he did.
Records from 2003 show Currier went before the Board of Selectmen about paving a section of a road and that Abbott felt that he had not gone through the proper steps. A letter dated March 19, 2003, to Currier from former town administrator Tim Warren indicates selectmen granted Currier permission to pave a portion of the road.
Brenda Currier said she only wants Bishop to go to the ZBA and get whatever variances and/or special exceptions he needs to operate his business, to which board Vice Chairman Marty Martindale replied that those steps "had not been done.
"We are working with him." Martindale continued. "He will correct it or a cease-and-desist will be ordered."
"Good enough," said Brett Currier, while Brenda nodded in agreement.
Mark Sisti, the town moderator, said he's very glad to see cooler heads prevailing at the Planning Board and said that Brett and Brenda Currier had made some legitimate points.
Sisti also said that he is a lawyer, and as such, wouldn't recommend suddenly shutting down a business that had been operating for six years.
"That could be a problem," he said.
But, he said having working and thriving businesses in Gilmanton is something the town hasn't seen for a "number of decades" and the tax revenues from business enterprises should be the focus for all of the town's boards.
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