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Proposed agritourism amendment shelved


January 11, 2018
A proposed amendment that would change some details to the zoning ordinance on agritourism will not go to the ballot this year following the planning board's decision to hold off on this for at least another year.

The proposed amendment was meant to clarify what was allowed for lighting at agritourism events, though additional details were suggested by the town attorney. Amendment 3 was extensively discussed by planning board members and residents during Monday's public hering on the proposed zoning amendments.

Last year, voters approved an amendment to the nuisance ordinance with a provision for agritourism following extensive discussions related to Timber Hill Farm on Gunstock Hill Road and neighbor concerns about events creating issues for the neighborhood.

Town planner John Ayer said the ordinance did not allow for artificial light and the absence of lighting could create safety hazards. Additionally, there was a question as to what constituted natural and not natural lighting, like electric lights, candles, tiki torches, or just allowing moonlight and sunlight.

The amendment included a provision for exterior lights to illuminate tents, pathways, driveways, sidewalks, and restroom facilities among other spaces. Lights were required to be directed downward, fully shielded, and not emit more than 0.05 foot candles.

The town attorney made some additional suggestions for the ordinance. Under the ordinance agritourism events cannot serve alcohol if the farm's owner or operator paid for third party services. The town attorney suggested striking the reference to a third party, with this change no agritourism event could serve alcohol no matter if a third party was involved or not. There was also a suggested change from not allowing amplified music and sound to nor allowing sound above 30 decibels at the property line.

Members of the board questioned this word change, especially in regards to alcohol being served.

"Preventing any alcohol is not going to be good for the actual function," said board member Richard Egan.

Gunstock Hill Road resident Monique Twomey, however, supported the change in wording that would ban alcohol at these functions.

Twomey said the residents want to be protected and this does not accomplish that.

Board Chair Wayne Hall said this whole proposed change started with adding a provision for lighting and the other changes were suggested by the attorney and not the planning board.

"Our residential neighborhoods are not a party zone," Twomey said. "We just want to raise our kids and have quiet."

Gunstock Hill Road resident Bill Seed also supported banning alcohol at agritourism events. He said he went to a function at Moulton Farm in Meredith, where the farm was not serving alcohol, though people were allowed to bring their own.

Seed also said the two agritourism articles that were brought to the ballot last year by Timber Hill's owners were defeated.

"I feel a lot of the residential property owners feel that too much concern is being given to one party and not the residential property owners in the town of Gilford," Seed said.

Residents Ryan and Colleen Crawford sent a letter to the board delivered by their attorney Jason Dennis, who took issue with many details in the proposed amendment. Dennis also supported removing the language for "third party" as it can be easily challenged and said his clients were "110 percent" against agritourism events serving alcohol.

"This problem is not necessarily just what we've got here, but it's further chipping away at the residential character," Dennis said of his clients' perspectives.

Residents also asked that the number of allowable events in a year be reduced from 20 in the ordinance to 15.

Extensive discussions took place on what elements of the amendment the planning board wanted to alter or keep.

Selectman's representative Richard Grenier said he had recently read a newspaper article that the state legislature was proposing changes to the definitions of agritoruism.

Grenier said the only agritourism proposal that has come before the board in recent memory is Timber Hill and these new policies are not retroactive to that case.

Grenier suggested given the possible legislation on agritourism that they leave this whole matter alone and make no changes to the existing ordinance, also saying the voters already spoke on this last year.

"Let this take its course at the state level, we already have a statement from the townspeople in March," Grenier said.

After discussion the planning board agreed to pull the proposed amendment and not have any decisions made on this for now.

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