By THOMAS P. CALDWELL, LACONIA DAILY SUN
GILMANTON — A year-long dispute between Gilmanton Winery and Restaurant and the Gilmanton Planning Board ended Tuesday with an out-of-court settlement that awards $30,000 to owners Marshall and Carol Bishop.
Terms of the settlement were outlined in a memorandum of understanding released by Gilmanton Town Administrator Heidi Duval. The final settlement document has not yet been filed with Gilmanton Town Clerk Debra Cornett.
The settlement releases the town, town officials, its boards, and board members from any further liability, with both sides agreeing to non-disparagement clauses. The parties will share in the costs of mediation.
The litigation arose after Planning Board attorney Paul Fitzgerald issued a cease-and-desist order, stopping operations at the winery, on Nov. 22, 2016. In court documents, the Bishops traced the problem to Marshall Bishop’s defeat of Brett Currier in the town’s 2016 selectmen’s race.
The Bishops alleged that, after the election, Brett and Brenda Currier began attacking the winery as “operating illegally” and complained to the Planning Board that it was operating as a restaurant without a special exception from the Zoning Board of Adjustment.
The winery had been operating since 2011 without any complaints, the Bishops stated in court documents.
Marshall Bishop had approached the Planning Board in January 2011 with his proposal for a three-phase development of the property, formerly owned by “Peyton Place” author Grace Metalious and most recently serving as an alpaca farm and vineyard. The first phase would convert the garage to a winery; the second would convert the downstairs portion of the house to a dining and function area; and the third phase would convert the rest of the building to a bed-and-breakfast facility.
In “May or June” of 2011, the Bishops submitted a proposed site plan for the first two phases of work. The Bishops said — and the town denied in court documents — that “The discussion recognized that, in addition to hosting events, the property would host dinner functions on Fridays, Saturdays, and holidays. The discussion also recognized that tour buses may access the property and guests would be able to park on the property, but would have to walk on Meadow Pond Road in order to reach the house, unless a footbridge was built over a small stream.”
The town did not deny that the Planning Board unanimously approved the site plan, but it did not agree that it “allowed the Bishops to operate a winery and function area to be open to the public with one sitting each night.” The town also denied that “conditions subsequent to final approval being signed included adding a bus turn around and cart path” to the final plan.
The town also denied that discussions in January and February 2012 ended with the Planning Board agreeing that a golf cart bridge could be built at a later time.
When the Curriers filed complaints four years later, the operation came under new scrutiny. While the Bishops believed their site plan approval allowed the meals, they filed for and received a special exception to operate a restaurant.
On Oct. 13, 2016, Planning Board member Marty Martingale, who also was serving when the board approved the original plan, stated that the Bishops should start over with a new site plan application. Four days later, Fitzgerald sent a letter to inform the Bishops that the Planning Board would like to “review this situation” by requiring a new site plan application and giving them until Oct. 26 to file one or face a cease-and-desist order.
They responded on Oct. 21 by saying they would address any well-founded concerns, but that the town would have to specify what laws or regulations it was alleging that they violated. There was no response, and no cease-and-desist order was issued. Hearing nothing, they sent a letter through their attorney on Nov. 3, reiterating their willingness to address any concerns. That was when Fitzgerald issued the cease-and-desist order.
The Bishops’ lawsuit claimed damage to their business and harm to their reputations.
The settlement memo agrees to allow the Bishops to “announce the satisfactory approval of the site plan.”