Howes get site plan approval, but still face two lawsuits

By GAIL OBER, LACONIA DAILY SUN

GILFORD — After a marathon session of the Planning Board Monday night, members narrowly voted 4 to 3 to give Timber Hill Farm site plan approval to host farm-to-table events such as weddings on their Gunstock Hill farm, but there are still two lawsuits that could end that quest.

It took the board until midnight to outline all of the limiting restrictions that were put in place ostensibly to protect the neighbors from loud music, light, traffic, drunks, human waste and other ancillary things that could occur at a large gathering for a celebration like a wedding.

It fell to Chairman John Morgenstern to make the final decision, who called it a "dilemma" because of his concern for abutter Monique Twomey and some of the other neighbors who spoke against the proposal.

"I didn't agree with the [Zoning Board of Adjustment] decision, but that will be decided by the court," Morgenstern said. "I want to say 'no' but I will say "yes."

The ZBA decision to which Morgenstern refers is the controlling factor in the Planning Board decision. Twice the ZBA has determined that, in Gilford, agritourism and agriculture are the same thing and that the Howe's proposed use for farm-to-table events such as hosting weddings should be considered as "other commercial agricultural uses."

Detractors, of which there are many, including at least three members of the Planning Board, disagree and say that the New Hampshire Supreme Court ruled in 2014 that agritourism in New Hampshire was, by design and deliberate intent of the New Hampshire State Legislature, different than agriculture.

For the first time, Twomey addressed the Planning Board herself and implored them not to grant site plan approval. She told them she grew up in Gilford, moved away and set a goal of returning.

After careful deliberation, she said she bought a house next to conservation land and in a residential neighborhood she thought was perfect to raise her two daughters. During the 2015 weddings, she said she would see people urinating along the property line while facing her home and hear music and drunken laughter at night that carried through the meadow.

She told the Planning Board that she started her own petition against the Howes proposal and had already gotten 71 signatures with the caveat that in order to sign the petition, the signers had to come to her home and see where the tent events were taking place.

She said she remembered one of the farm-to-table events held before the weddings and said that at first she was annoyed, but that she shouldn't have been because it was respectful and pretty. She described the weddings as drunks and disrespectful.

"Would you want that every weekend day of your summer?" she asked them.

In Timber Hill's site plan approval, the Howes can host events in a tent in a meadow abutting Twomey's property only in 2016 and are limited to 10 annually.
Events will be confined to the tent, which shall be at least 650 feet away from Twomey's house, and to within 150 feet of it to the north and east. The tent had to come down withing 24 hours of an event and all music must end at 10 p.m. No activity can begin before 8 a.m.

Beginning in 2017, all events must be in a barn that is being constructed about 800 feet down the slope from Twomey's house. Should the barn not be ready for the summer of 2017, the Howes said they would use the barn site for the tent. They have agreed to plant some kind of tree buffer but said they need to remove a few existing trees to prepare the site. They are limited to 15 events per year.

All music must be directed away from dwellings on Gunstock Hill Road and the barn shall have no openings on the side facing the road. Adequate toilet and trash facilities must be provided for every event.

Alcohol will be allowed by only to sold on site by a licensed agent with licensed bartenders. The board said no to a bring-you-own-bottle policy.

Another stipulation is that 35 percent of the food served by the caterer must be grown by the Howes on either of their two farms, although detractors said this was unenforceable.

The Howes will be responsible for all safety, police details if determined necessary by the chief, and for transporting all of the guest from the parking area near their home, which is not in conservation, to the event site.

Parking was something the three opposing members of the Planning Board struggled with. Jerry Gagnon said that parking facilities, whether they are structures or not, are not allowed by town ordinances in any single-family residence.

"If we approve this, it has to be graded and graveled," he said.

Gagnon also said that allowing the Howes to build a barn for gatherings and not have it subjected to sprinkler requirements is wrong. He noted that the town would not allow any other commercial structure to be built, even in a commercial zone, that would hold 200 people without sprinklers.

"I agree with Jerry," said Carolyn Scattergood. "We have 200 people at risk in a barn with a generator. No. It needs to be hard wired," she said.

Supporting Planning Board members and staff said the site plan will require that the Howes comply with all local and state fire and safety regulations.

While the Howes have their site plan, they still have one major hurdle to cross before they can begin hosting events in 2016. Twomey has filed two lawsuits in Belknap County Superior Court against the ZBA ruling that agriculture and agritourism are the same thing.

Twomey has also asked for a restraining order to prevent the Howes from hosting events until the suits are settled. The court has set a hearing for the restraining order for March 7.

Davis Place deal in limbo as city considers two proposals

By MICHAEL KITCH, LACONIA DAILY SUN

LACONIA — Faced with two offers from two private parties to purchase parts of two lots owned by the city on Davis Place, the City Council this week declined to declare the properties surplus and directed City Manager Scott Myers to explore the offers with the prospective buyers.

At a public hearing, both the Planning Board and the Downtown Tax Increment Financing (TIF) Advisory Board urged the council not to sell any or all of either lot, but instead to retain the properties to provide public access to the Winnipesaukee River.

Harry Bean seeks to purchase 9,810 square feet of untended woodland straddling Jewett Brook, which adjoins the house lot he owns at 32 Davis Place. Most of this land lies within a sprawling 1.67-acre lot owned by the city that fronts on Davis Place, stretches along the north bank of the Jewett Brook to the Winnipesaukee River and includes a sliver of land reaching from the south bank of the brook to Howard Street. Bean also seeks to acquire a strip of land, approximately 10 feet by 131 feet along the east side of a 0.15-acre lot, also owned by the city, that lies within the larger lot, which he would attach to the other parcel.

Bean told the council that he does not want to develop the lot, but merely to "clean up" what has become a "dumping ground" where people loiter. Because of its size and proximity to Jewett Brook, the parcel he seeks to acquire could not be built upon.

Meanwhile, Lloyd Wylie, who owns the lot at the far end of Davis Place that houses an apartment building, has made two offers to purchase portions of the 1.67-acre lot, which abuts his property to the east and south. One offer would include the portion of the lot abutting his lot to the south and fronting the Winnipesaukee River and Jewett Brook. Alternatively, he has offered to acquire the entire lot, except for the portion Bean has requested and the stretch on the south bank of Jewett Brook leading to Howard Street.

Like Bean, Wylie said that he wished only to maintain "a clean and safe environment for the community" by landscaping and policing the property as well as address a drainage problem without developing the lot.

In a letter to the council, the TIF Advisory Board said the property "offers an area for a potential trail and new public riverfront park, beach and car-top boat launch on the Winnipesaukee River." The board noted that the riverwalk "is an important part of the overall Downtown economic development and all the connected neighborhoods."

Likewise, the Planning Board described the lots as "a potential major extension of the river walk, park for residents of the area and city, and a parking lot that can be a satellite facility for those parking downtown and a possible park and ride." The board reminded the council that the process of updating the Master Plan is underway and the city has invested significantly in improving downtown, concluding that "it is premature to divest a major piece of real estate in the downtown area that could support these plans."

Myers said Monday that he considers the offers "two completely different scenarios." The land Bean seeks to purchase would not include either the strip leading from Howard Street to or the bridge crossing Jewett, which provide access to the larger of the two lots with frontage on the river. On the other hand, Wylie seeks to purchase all or part of the lot that fronts the river. Moreover, he said that Wylie indicated that if he owned the property, he would be unwilling to grant the city an easement to extend the riverwalk across it.

Lakes Regional Scholarship Foundation marks 60th anniversary of helping students

By MICHAEL KITCH, LACONIA DAILY SUN

LACONIA — The City Council this week recognized the Lakes Region Scholarship Foundation, which during the past 60 years has awarded more than $5.2 million to to assist over 4,600 students from the Lakes Region pursue higher education.

To celebrate the 60th anniversary of the foundation Mayor Ed Engler presented Mike Nolan, president of the foundation, and Paulette Loughlin, its assistant director, with a proclamation recounting the achievements and honoring the generosity of the foundation and its donors.

In 1956, the foundation arose from a meeting "to consider the desirability of establishing an incorporated foundation, which would improve the administration of academic scholarships granted by various organizations of the area, and which might also work to increase the number and amount of these scholarships."

That year, eight donors awarded $2,650 to 16 students. The original eight donors were the Laconia Evening Citizen, Laconia Woman's Club, Lakeport Woman's Club, Kiwanis Club of Laconia, Laconia Lodge of Elks, Laconia Emblem Club, Laconia Rotary Club and Charles P. Raymond. Four of these donors — the Kiwanis Club of Laconia, Lakeport Woman's Club , Laconia, Laconia Emblem Club and the Rotary clubs of Laconia, Gilford and the Lakes Region — have continuously contributed to the foundation ever since.

Altogether the foundation has prospered from the generosity of some 525 donors, of which memorial funds, established by families to honor and remember their loved ones represent more than 70 percent.

 Photo to accompany story on Lakes Region Scholarship Foundation. Left: Paulette Loughlin, Past President and Assistant Direct Director, Lakes Region Scholarship Founation; Center: Our Hero; Right Mike Nolan, President

Noting the anniversary are, from left, Paulette Loughlin, past president and sssistant directo of the Lakes Region Scholarship Founation; Mayor Ed Engler; and Mike Nolan, president of the foundation. (Courtesy Photo)