To The Daily Sun,
It would seem that certain members of the Gilmanton ZBA, in respect to their decision regarding the Gilmanton Winery and Restaurant did not bend, or even break any rules for owner and selectman Marshall Bishop, after all. They simply created a new one. Which, of course, they have no authority to do, but which they did anyway (Article, Sept 17).
In the article, it is reported that the Gilmanton Table of Uses, "allows existing structures in the rural section to be converted into restaurants by special exception." On that basis, the special exception was granted. The only problem is, on Gilmanton's zoning ordinance, Table of Uses, Article IV Table1, that precise wording does not exist. Not even close. It was simply four ZBA members saying, "it is so, because we want it to be." Well, it isn't!
The outline of the ordinance on restaurants, in this case, contains only six words, with only two, one-letter designations. For the ZBA members, then, to make the case that, taken as a whole, it's "subject to interpretation or unclear," is possibly the most ridiculous thing I've ever read. There's simply no way to twist and turn six words around to get multiple meanings and interpretations. And the ZBA has no authority to add wording. The fact is, these four ZBA members ignored the total intent and purpose of the ordinance, which I have understood for years, and it's my opinion that whoever advised them that this was legal, has not done Gilmanton, Mr. Bishop or the ZBA board any favors.
The idea, as the ZBA decision suggests, that there is a difference between a 30 foot by 40 foot, Cape Cod-style structure, built specifically as a restaurant, or an existing 30 foot by 40 foot Cape Cod-style structure, remodeled into a restaurant, is absurd. There is no difference. Each would impact the physical landscape, exactly as the other.
Additionally, each would impact the integrity of the zone, in respect to abutters' ability to sell their homes (to a market that typically moves to rural areas not with the intention of having a restaurant down or across the road), the impact of public services, traffic issues, parking issues, noise issues, sensory issues and so many other considerations that make a new restaurant and an "existing with interior alterations" restaurant ... the exact same thing! Which is why the intent of Gilmanton's ordinance allows for interior expansion, with exception, should a permitted restaurant currently have existed before the ordinance was written.
Apart from that, the ordinance is clear that new restaurants, in any form, are not allowed. I'm not saying I agree with the ordinance, because, quite frankly, it dramatically deviates from what neighboring communities do. All I am saying is that the clear intent of the current Gilmanton ordinance, regarding restaurants in rural zones, is that new restaurants, regardless of how they're created, are not permitted.
I personally have and would have continued to support a variance for the Winery's restaurant, even to the point of bending a few rules, considering the town is as much at fault for the restaurant's lack of permits, as Mr. Bishop himself. Possibly, even more so.
Zoning Boards have all the authority under RSA 674:33 — Powers Of Zoning Board Of Adjustment — to issue a variance, which allows, under special circumstances, restricted uses of land. This is exactly the Winery's issue. It is a restaurant in a rural zone. Restaurants are restricted and not subject to special exception in rural zones. Period. Yet, there are special circumstances that could have been considered, and, on that basis, the ZBA could have issued the Winery a variance. It was that simple.
Then, Mr. Bishop could have gone back to the Planning Board with at least something that made sense and a decision that aligned with the wording and intent of the current zoning ordinance.
I strongly urge Mr. Bishop, and the ZBA, to reverse the course which they have taken. It is admirable that the four members wanted to expedite this matter for the Winery. It is, after all, an asset to our community. I have, in fact, after meeting Mr. Bishop and his wife personally, changed my view, and would applaud efforts to straighten this mess out for them. But it has to be done right. And the current decision is as far from right as one could possibly get. And, in my opinion, is as close to wrong as one could get to being outside of the laws which govern ZBA powers.