GILFORD — A member of the Gilford Planning Board told Andrew Howe of Timber Hill Road that his wedding receptions and the petitioned zoning amendments he has submitted are creating a rift between town residents.
Member Jerry Gagnon asked Howe, who spoke for his petitioned warrant article to define agritourism under agriculture with virtually no fetters at a jam-packed meeting Tuesday night, to tell him what a wedding is. When Howe answered that it was when two people get married, Gagnon said he agreed but "a wedding is wedding, and not a wedding reception," which is what the Howes have been hosting on a portion of their farm.
"You're dividing everyone in town," said Gagnon to Howe.
Member Carolyn Scattergood said wedding receptions on farms reminds her of children's books where young ones have to pick out the one thing pictured that doesn't fit into a farm.
"I can't get past rental of a farm to a third party," she continued referring to the fact that the Howes hire the Common Man Restaurants to cater their events.
Audience member Bill Roderick asked the board to vote not to recommend the Howe's petitioned warrant article. He also encouraged the board to keep agritourism separate from agriculture, opening the door for a number of speakers to agree with him.
Jack Landow and his wife, Charlotte Landow, both said the two should be kept separate. He said agritourism is a relatively new phenomenon and its focus should be kept on agriculture.
"A wedding reception is not an agricultural event," he said.
"I believe agritourism and weddings have no place in agriculture," said Charlotte Landow who noted that she and her husband live between a sheep farm and a buffalo farm, and fears her property could be determined at some point to be commercial as well.
Ryan Crawford of Gunstock Hill Road agreed.
"I like the Howes and I go to Beans and Greens" (a second company owned and operated by the Howes in a commercial zone on Intervale Road), "As I look at these, I don't think they should be combined," he said.
Bill Seed, also of Gunstock Hill Road, has been opposed to the Howes hosting wedding receptions and including unfettered agritourism in agriculture for a long time.
"It must be a secondary use. It can't be a primary use," he said, referring to his research into agritourism.
One man simply stood at the podium and asked if it would mean agritourism would be allowed in all zones if the article is passed by the voters. When he was told "yes" by Morgenstern, he shook his head and walked away.
One man tried to speak on behalf of the Howes but when Morgenstern learned the speakekr didn't live in or pay taxes in Gilford but instead runs a business, he did not allow the man to speak.
The board then had little discussion and voted 5 to 1 with one abstention to not recommend the article.
The second petitioned warrant article would rezone all of the Howe property on Gunstock Hill Road from single-family residential to resort commercial. If passed, this will allow the Howes to do all activities on their property, including wedding receptions and the like, as well as other activities.
Andy Howe said this isn't true because all of his property is restricted by current use and is in a conservation trust granted by the Society for Protection of State Forests.
Crawford came to the podium for a second time and said this change would affect the value of his property. He said that the parties and weddings held last summer by the Howes "felt like they were in his own home."
"They woke up my kids and we had to close the windows," he said. It's not commercial, nor should it be."
Sally Rowe, who joined the agritourism conversation after living in Gilford for 50 years and never attending any meetings, said the proposal would "really screw up a lot of people."
Videos of wedding that have taken place at Timber Hill have been submitted to the town. They can be viewed at www.youtube.com/watch?v=8iEkpWsCef4 and www.youtube.com/watch?v=-CLiURQ_A1Q.
Members agreed 5 to 1, with Chan Eddy abstaining, that the petition would create "islands" of residential property within a commerical zone and voted not to support it.
As to their own proposed warrant articles, the board chose to put one on the ballot that would allow agritourism under certain conditions and within certain restrictions in all zones except Island Residential.
By agreeing to put the definition of agritourism under the category of agriculture and defining its parameters, the board eliminated a second proposal it generated that would have allowed it in all open space areas in all zones by a special exception from the Zoning Board.