To The Daily Sun,
There have been many misunderstandings and outright misrepresentations regarding the proposals by Andrew and Martina Howe and their attempts to obtain approval of their use of their properties on Gunstock Hill Road in Gilford — that happen to be in the Single Family Residence (SFR) Zone, in which commercial activities are not allowed to be conducted by ordinary citizens — for holding wedding receptions and other commercial events for which they charge outsiders, hold the events in large tents with associated electric generators, portable toilets, amplified music, catered food and alcoholic beverages, with events happening often late into the evening hours.
The Howes claim that hosting these activities on their residentially zoned property as a commercial activity is nothing more than "agritourism."
Since it is not yet defined in our zoning ordinance, we are governed by the state's definition as set forth in its statutes: The term "agritourism'' means "attracting visitors to a working farm for the purpose of eating a meal, making overnight stays, enjoyment of the farm environment, education on farm operations, or active involvement in the activity of the farm which is ancillary to the farm operation."
The commercial activities such as the Howes have conducted and wish to continue to conduct on Gunstock Hill Road are not included in the state's definition, and this interpretation has been definitively affirmed by the state Supreme Court last June.
This is the status of the laws of New Hampshire now. And no one should be above the law.
The issues now facing Gilford have been confused by some who have promoted he notion that those who are opposed to the proposed commercial uses on Gunstock Hill Road are trying to tear down or harm Beans and Greens. Nothing could be further from the truth.
Their commercial activities on their Gunstock Hill Road property has nothing to do with Beans and Greens, no matter what they and their supporters might claim.
Beans and Greens is operated by Mr. and Mrs. Howe on Intervale Road, quite some distance from Gunstock Hill Road. The Beans and Greens property is zoned RC (Resort Commercial). Various commercial activities are permitted in an RC zone, but are not permitted in residential zones, which are designed to be only residential.
Commercial activities are supposed to be confined to commercial zones so that residential property owners have peace and quiet and their property values are protected. That is what the Gilford Zoning Ordinance is about, or should be about.
The Howes are in effect attempting to destroy the rural residential character of the neighborhood on Gunstock Hill Road.
The Howes and some of their supporters have placed on the town ballot two petitioned warrant articles: One that would create a definition of "agritourism" in Gilford so expansive that commercial activities (by them as well as others) could take place on any residential property in the town (since farming is permitted in any zone), as well as a second article that would change the zoning on their single family residential property on Gunstock Hill Road to Resort Commercial, in which many types of commercial activities would be permitted. These two articles, Articles 4 & 5, must be defeated on March 8.
To counter these attempts that would lead to a destruction of the integrity of residential zoning in Gilford, the Planning Board has proposed a warrant article, Article 8, that would define "agritourism" restrictively, make it subject to our existing nuisance ordinance (Article 7), and severely restrict the ability of any property owner to conduct commercial activities on residential property in the town under the guise of "agritourism." Thus, Articles 7 and 8 should be passed.
One of the specious arguments being made by the Howes is that their application for commercial uses in a Single Family Residence Zone is to allow them to survive financially as farmers and, in effect, that a denial would be unfair to them.
The Howe family has owned property in Gilford for many years. The Howe parcels on Gunstock Hill Road, totaling 245.95 acres, all zoned Single Family Residential, is the tract of land that is the subject of the present controversy. This entire tract is valued by the Tax Assessor at $1,525,060, but assessed for tax purposes at only $330,000 because of the legally permitted current use and conservation easement tax avoidance schemes utilized by the Howes.
This means that their tax bills on their Gunstock Hill Road properties of nearly 246 acres totaled $5,959.11 for 2015.
If you own residential property in Gilford, how does your tax bill compare?
The taxpayers of Gilford are already giving enormous financial support to the activities of the Howes through their greatly diminished tax bills, so why must they destroy residential neighborhoods?
If the Howes succeed in gaining adoption of either or both of Articles 4 or 5, no one who owns property in a residential zone in Gilford will be safe from encroachment of commercial activities into their neighborhoods and backyards.
Because farming is allowed in all zones in Gilford, residential or otherwise, if Article 4 is adopted, all someone needs to do to conduct commercial activities in a residential zone is to start some modicum of farming on their property and lo and behold they can then claim that holding large commercial events on their property is merely an aspect of permitted "agritourism." Residential zoning becomes meaningless.
And if the Resort Commercial zone is expanded as sought by Article 5, the owners of the various actual residential parcels on Gunstock Hill Road adjacent to the Howes will find themselves next to or very near to Resort Commercial zoned property on which numerous commercial activities, in addition to what the Howes have been doing and are proposing to continue doing, will be permitted.
Gilford voters should vote "No" on Articles 4 and 5, and should vote "Yes" on Articles 7 and 8, on March 8.
Norman J. Silber, Member
Gilford Planning Board