To The Daily Sun,
Andrew and Martina Howe, the owners of Timber Hill Farm located on Gunstock Hill and Old Lakes Shore Roads in Gilford, submitted an application for site plan approval to hold wedding receptions and other catered events for up to 200 people, with parking, bands, lights, port-a-toilets, and alcohol. Events of this nature are a commercial use under the Gilford ordinances. But the applicants claim it's agritourism and therefore a permitted agricultural use.
I encourage readers to view a YouTube video of one of many wedding receptions held on the farm last year and make their own determination. It was taken from the abutting neighbor's backyard and is on record in the Planning Department office.
Interested readers can google: https://m.youtube.com/watch?v=8iEkpWsCef4 to view it.
Here's what's happened:
1. The Zoning Board of Adjustment (ZBA), which controls permitted "uses" under the ordinances, approved agritourism as a permitted use, thereby allowing the catered events in the residential zone. The town attorney had previously written a contrary opinion based on a recent state Supreme Court decision.
Andrew Howe has been a chair and member of the ZBA for many years and has established close relationships with one or more members. Did these relationships impact the ZBA's actions? Many feel it did.
2. Andrew Howe received a letter from the Gilford Planning Director notifying him that site plan approval was required for the events. Nevertheless, the events were conducted without approval. Did he believe the town wouldn't do anything? Well, it didn't, and why not? If someone else did it, I am certain there would have been consequences.
3. The site plan application was heard Monday evening. Numerous residential property owners spoke at this and prior meetings asking the board to deny the application. Others wrote letters or signed petitions of opposition. At the meetings, only a few residents support it. The meeting lasted from 7 p.m. to almost midnight. Meetings usually aren't continued past 10 p.m. Pushing the application through benefited only the applicant since wedding receptions had already been booked for 2016. The Planning Board knew it.
The vote was a tie leaving the chairperson with the deciding vote. He voted for approval. A few days earlier, he and the Town Planner met to discuss the application and prepare a draft of conditions for approval for consideration.
Nothing was prepared for consideration in case of denial. Why would the chairperson participate in preparing the draft unless there was a "mindset" to approve the application prior to it's being heard. When you've helped prepare a draft of conditions for approval, how do you vote against it?
Also, were board members influenced by the chairperson's participation in drafting the conditions for approval? I happen to respect the chairperson as an individual and board member, but a serious mistake was made in this instance harming the interests of residential property owners.
Many residential owners on Gunstock Hill and Old Lakeshore Roads feel their interests have been ignored in favor of the well-known applicants. If readers view the video mentioned, it will open their eyes and aid them in making their own determinations.
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