By GAIL OBER, LACONIA DAILY SUN
LACONIA — The neighbor of a local family farm that wants to host weddings has asked the Zoning Board of Adjustment to overrule the Planning Board's decision saying town ordinances don't include agritourism. If the neighbor wins, it would mean the Planning Board has no jurisdiction over a site plan review.
Monique Twomey, as an individual and as trustee of her estate, said the Belknap County Superior Court should rule that the Planning Board has no jurisdiction over the proposal by Andy and Martina Howe for a piece of property on Gunstock Hill Road because the town's zoning ordinances do not include agritourism as a legitimate use of land.
The Zoning Board, through its decision, determined that agritourism and agriculture are one and the same, and that the Planning Board should review a site plan proffered by the Howes for a wedding venue about 250 feet from Twomey's home.
That site plan review is scheduled for Monday at 7 p.m. at the Gilford Town Offices.
This is the latest twist in the saga that is being played out on Gunstock Hill Road as the Howe family seeks to host weddings and other activities on a piece of their property. In addition to two lawsuits filed against the ZBA by an abutter for its rulings that favor the Howes, the Planning Board has proposed its own zoning amendment adding and regulating agritourism for the town, primarily as a counterbalance to the amendments petitioned by the Howes on to the annual warrant that would change the zoning in the area to allow their proposal.
The town of Gilford has objected to the first suit filed by Twomey as untimely. It has not responded to this latest suit yet.
Twomey said the ZBA decision to overturn the Planning Board decision that it didn't have jurisdiction was incorrectly influenced by her concerns that the ZBA chairman chose to ignore the Planning Board's determination and that its decision was to be based only on what evidence had already been presented.
Twomey also argues the ZBA's decision was against current state law because the New Hampshire Supreme Court ruled in 2014 in Forster v. Town of Henniker that the legislature deliberately determined that agritourism is not agriculture.
She said that because Gilford's ordinance includes the words "and other commercial agricultural activity," weddings or similar activities should not be allowed. She cites a well-settled law that the court should interpret words themselves in the "plain and ordinary meaning."
Twomey said any other commercial activity should be agricultural, meaning the growing of produce or the raising of livestock.
"None of these are akin to hosting commercial events such as weddings and similar activities, that are not centered on agriculture," wrote her attorney, Joseph Driscoll III.
Twomey also asks the court to determine if the ZBA failed to take the negative effect the Howes' plan would have on the value of her property into consideration. He said an real estate appraisal obtained from a broker at a local real estate firm said the Howes' proposed activities would diminish her property values by about $200,000, or one third, and further cost her the private, peaceful enjoyment of her home.
Twomey said all of the property being considered for the Howes' proposal is in a conservation trust and she partially used that information to buy her home expecting there would be no commercial or industrial activities there.
Twomey is also asking for legal fees.
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