GILFORD — Beans & Greens may have gotten zoning approval to host weddings at Timber Hill Farm, but the Gilford Planning Board is holding up any wedding plans after once again tabling a site plan application.
On Monday night, the board consider the application from Andy, Martina and Isaac Howe for holding farm-to-table events, including weddings, at their 250-acre property on Gunstock Hill Road, but wanted more information about whether the survivals of the farming operation depends upon approval of such events. The Howes have maintained that farm-to-table events, which fall under the mantle of agri-tourism, are crucial to their ability to maintain a viable farming operation.
Plans for the property call for construction of a 40-by-84-foot timber-frame barn with a 20-by-30-foot porch, an irrigation pond, a parking area and a temporary events area. The property is located in a single-family residential zone and has been the site of farm-to-table events for the last five years, including five this past summer, some of which were weddings.
After receiving a complaint from an abutter regarding weddings being held on the Howes’ property this past summer, a cease-and-desist order was issued by town’s code enforcement officer on Aug. 26 which said that the Howes could not resume hosting weddings or other similar activities until they had obtained site plan approvals from the planning board.
The Howes appealed the ruling to the Gilford Zoning Board of Adjustment, which held a lengthy meeting in late September which culminated with a 3-1 vote by the board to lift the cease-and-desist order.
Monday’s meeting, which went on for more than two hours, opened with the board receiving an opinion from legal counsel Attorney Robert Maher that the planning board, despite the ZBA’s decision, still has authority over what uses are permitted at the Timber Hill Farm site. He also said that weddings and other commercial activities are not permitted at the site under the town’s definition of agriculture.
Attorney Patrick Wood, who represented the Howes, said that the ZBA already had Maher’s opinion when they made their ruling.
He pointed out that Attorney Laura Spector, who was advising the ZBA, had told the board the issue was whether or not ‘’it is agriculture within your definition,’’ and that the board’ action had established that it is a permitted use.
‘’It’s not up to the planning board to reinterpret it,” said Wood.
Wood said that farms are by their nature commercial operations and that the Farm-to-Table aspect of the business, which he said encompasses weddings, as they are a part of selling products which are produced on the farm, meets the standards of the town’s zoning ordinance.
Attorney Joseph Driscoll, who represents Monique Twomey, the abutter who complained to the town about noise from the events, said commercial events shouldn’t be held in a residential zone and urged moving the weddings and Farm to Table events to Beans & Greens, which is located in a commercial resort area.
Bill Seed, who lives further up Gunstock Hill Road, said he sympathizes with the abutters and, referencing the weddings, asked, ‘’Would you want this in your backyard?’’
He also pointed out that the Howes’ property, which is under a conservation easement and is also in current use, is assessed for $880,000 but they only pay property taxes on $12,600 of that value.
Rick DeMark of Meredith, executive director of the North Country Resource, Conservation and Development Council, said agri-tourism is an effort by farms to expand their offerings and make farms more viable, and that such efforts have had a major impact on New Hampshire tourism.
‘’Agri-tourism has doubled in the last five years and is an integral part of today’s agriculture,’’ he said, pointing out that statewide it accounts for one-third of the state’s $935 million in agricultural income.
Planning Board Chairman John Morgenstern said the board is taking a deliberate approach and weighing all of the pertinent factors before making a decision. The board is scheduled to take up the plan again on Dec. 7.