Back and forth - Timber Hill Farm question goes back to Planning Board

GILFORD – The tennis-match-like back and forth over whether agritourism is considered part of agriculture in the Gilford town ordinances raged on Monday night when the Zoning Board of Adjustment voted unanimously that it is a commercial activity allowed under the town land ordinances.

The decision will send Andy and Martina Howe back to the Planning Board for a site plan review for their proposal for farm-to table events and weddings to be held on their property on Gunstock Hill Road.

"Agriculture and agritourism are one and the same," said ZBA member Ann Montminy.

The decision was made after listening to the Howes' attorney, Pat Wood, challenging abutter Monique Twomey's attorney, Joseph Driscoll, and members of the audience speak for 90 minutes on the issue. Most of those who spoke for the Howes were not from Gilford but represented agricultural interests in other parts of the the state.

One man who lives on Gunstock Hill Road said he is opposed to the Howes' proposal because of traffic concerns. Another said he is worried the Planning Board is trying to put the Howes other business, Beans and Greens Farm Stand, out of business, but Timber Hill Farm is a separate entity.

"I don't think the Planning Board should be interpreting zoning," said Chairman Scott Davis before calling for a vote. "We've spoken twice on this issue ... and I haven't heard anything (tonight) that would change my decision."

The struggle between the Howes and their supporters and Twomey and her supporters is one that could potentially change the nature of the rights of farmers and the rights of single-family homeowners in Gilford.

Right now, the definition of agriculture in Gilford is found under ordinance 4.7.1 titled Open Spaces and allows for "orchard, vegetable, garden, nursery, daily farm, commercial animals, poultry, livestock or other commercial activity. Home farming is allowed in all zones."

The Howes, with the support of the Zoning Board, have said the clause "or other activities" includes agritourism. Twomey, along with the Planning Board and in keeping with a recent New Hampshire Supreme Court decision, has said it doesn't.

Wood has said that the Howes' issue is about one piece of property owned and operated by one family and that any decision rendered by the local land board will not have a "broad-brush effect" on other properties. He noted that the number of events is limited to 15 by the parameters set by the Society of Protection of Forests who hold a conservation easement on the property.

"Each [request] would be reviewed on its own merits," he said.

Those who oppose Timber Hill Farm's proposal fear that granting a variance and a site plan to allow them to hold farm-to-table events, weddings and the like would bring a sea change to the rights of residential property owners in Gilford.

"I don't understand how it can't have an effect," said Driscoll. "I don't know how [the Zoning Board] can say the right to say agriculture in one thing for one property and a different thing for another."

Including agritourism in the definition of agriculture is problematic for the Planning Board as well. In the meeting when Timber Hill Farm was denied a review, member Norm Silber noted that since agriculture is allowed in all zones in Gilford, including agritourism in its definition could open up single-family residences for all kinds of potential commercial uses.

Planning Board Chairman John Morganstern said Wednesday that the earliest the Howes could appear before the Planning Board is Jan. 19. He also said the Planning Board is working on zoning ordinance warrant articles for annual Town Meeting.

As for the petition submitted to rezone all of the Howe family property on Gunstock Hill Road from single-family residential to resort commercial, Morganstern said the Planning Board had nothing to do with it.

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Dick Breton dies

LACONIA — Richard "Dick" Breton, who passed away earlier this week, will be remembered as an effective public servant and avid motorcycle rider, who served as a commissioner at the Laconia Water Works for two decades as well as two stints as a city councilor.

"Dick was a key player," said Seth Nuttelman, superintendent of the Laconia Water Works. "Although the chairmanship of the commission generally rotates, he was a go-to guy throughout his tenure. He brought a lot of financial expertise to the commission and was a very structured man who always thought things through," he continued. "In his 20 years, we did a lot of stuff, including upgrading the treatment plant and replacing water mains."

Breton was a first elected to the City Council in 1971 and served for two terms. Three decades later, following the death of incumbent Fred Toll, he was one of seven candidates — Pat Wood, David Stamps, Scott Vachon, Pat Emanuel, Doris Makely and Diane Hanley were the other five — who applied to complete the unexpired term. At the time, the council was divided over a proposal to construct a new high school and middle school on Parade Road. Breton was the candidate of Councilor Armand Bolduc (Ward 6), who with councilors Judy Krahulec (Ward 1) and Jim Cowan (Ward 4) opposed the project. With the support of the three, Breton was appointed by a three-to-two vote.

Controversy erupted when Breton refused to resign from the Water Commission. Mayor Mark Fraser, after consulting the New Hampshire Attorney General, ruled if Breton could not hold both offices, but was overturned by the council. Wood then sued Breton, who ultimately resigned from the Water Commission.

As a city councilor Breton proposed holding a referendum on whether to build new schools at an estimated cost of $76-million or renovate old schools. Meanwhile, Councilor Rick Judkins (Ward 5), one of the two to oppose Breton's appointment, resigned. He was replaced by Bob Hamel, who has held the seat ever since, which confirmed the unassailable majority of those opposed to the construction of new schools. When his stormy term ended, Breton did not seek election, but instead returned to the Water Commission, where he served until July 2014.

"Dick was a good friend of mine for a long time," said Hamel, who recalled that they met in the early 1980s when his wife joined New Hampshire Savings Bank where Breton was a vice president and branch manager. The two shared an enthusiasm for motorcycles and often rode their Honda Gold Wings in tandem.

"Dick was a fixture at Dunkin' Donuts at 8 a.m. every fine Sunday for pick-up rides," he said. Breton was also a regular at the annual rallies in Daytona and at Lake George (Americade) as well as made several trips to Sturgis, South Dakota. Hamel said Breton also enjoyed parading his antique cars, a 1931 Ford Model A coupe and an old Buick to cruise nights at diners in the Lakes Region.

"Dick was a good friend and a very smart, open-hearted man who was a big part of this community," Hamel said.

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Commission went from chaos to success in 2015

LACONIA — It was a year marked by a chaotic beginning and a happy ending for the Belknap County Commission according to Commission Chairman David Devoy (R-Sanbornton).
“It was a long journey with a lot of turmoil, but in the end we accomplished a lot of what we set out to do,” said DeVoy, who pointed to the Belknap County Convention’s unanimous passage in early November of an $8 million bond for a new community corrections center as the major achievement of the commission during 2015.
“We wanted to end all the drama with the lawsuits and bickering between the commission and the convention and establish a better relationship where we could work together. And we worked hard at it and were able to achieve that. A lot of good things happened this year despite the bickering on the commission, which was a huge drag for a good part of the year.”
The year began for the commission with DeVoy and Richard Burchell (R-Gilmanton) as the only two commissioners, with Burchell elected as chairman. At the very first meeting, the new commissioners announced their intention to become more involved in the management of the county and set new policies in motion to reverse the delegation of authority to the county administrator which had been practiced by the previous commission. The new commissioners also reinstated Matthew Logue, who had been fired by the previous commission, as superintendent of the Belknap County Home.
Hunter Taylor (R-Alton) was appointed by the county convention in late January to fill a vacancy on the commission, which soon began bickering behind closed doors over a number of issues, including a proposed reorganization of the county sought by Burchell.
DeVoy and Taylor refused to go along with Burchell’s plan and, after several weeks of conflict with him, ousted Burchell as chairman at a March 2 meeting at which Burchell attempted to gavel down motions made by the other commissioners by saying that they were out of order.
Burchell appealed his ouster as chairman to Belknap County Superior Court, where a judge ruled that the majority had the right to replace him as chairman.
Squabbling continued into mid-summer and the depth of the differences between commission members became public in late July with the release of sealed minutes of commission meetings held when Burchell was chairman which showed that the commissioners had clashed over a grievance filed by Logue over missing emails which DeVoy and Taylor had rejected.
Before the year was out, Logue and the commissioners agreed to a settlement in which Logue resigned and accepted a $62,500 settlement.
DeVoy, who headed a Jail Planning Committee which came up with the plan for the community corrections center, said that he was really pleased by the unanimous vote the proposal received from the convention.
“It showed that working together to build mutual trust and respect paid off,” he said.
The plan passed by the convention calls for spending $7,171,928 for a 18,000-square-foot, 64-bed community corrections center adjacent to the existing county jail, as well as $1,159,300 for renovating parts of the existing jail, which would have 60 beds.
The community corrections center will feature a rigorous regimen of substance abuse, mental health and educational programs and services, which Corrections Superintendent Keith Gray said the county currently lacks. Work is expected to start in late spring and the center will open around September of 2017.
DeVoy said another major accomplishment was establishing a pilot program which will provide a comprehensive substance abuse/behavioral health assessment and treatment and offender case management program as a first step towards a planned community corrections center.
The program was developed by a committee of county agency representatives working with consultant Kevin Warwick, whose firm was hired to develop programs for a community corrections facility for the county, and calls for contracting with a private community-based treatment contractor at a cost of $46,564 for six months of services provided by equivalent of 1.5 full-time workers.
He said that other accomplishments included switching health insurance providers which will save the , county $150,000 a year and finding other cost savings in a number or areas.

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