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Zoning hearing on Dunbarton chicken coop cancelled

Tom Giavagnoli walks on the site where he would like to build a 20,000 chicken egg operation on his property in Dunbarton on Thursday, May 30, 2013. Giavagnoli's plan faces opposition from neighbors who cite environmental concerns.

(TAEHOON KIM / Monitor staff)

Tom Giavagnoli walks on the site where he would like to build a 20,000 chicken egg operation on his property in Dunbarton on Thursday, May 30, 2013. Giavagnoli's plan faces opposition from neighbors who cite environmental concerns. (TAEHOON KIM / Monitor staff)

A zoning board hearing scheduled for last night on a Dunbarton poultry barn was cancelled because the appellant’s lawyer said he believes the issues at hand can be resolved at a subsequent planning board meeting.

Residents Merlin and Kimberly Chapman had filed an appeal in April of the planning board’s decision to accept a site plan review application from Tom Giovagnoli for a 27,000-square-foot mechanized barn he wants to build near the center of his 85-acre property on Twist Hill Road. The Chapmans, neighbors of Giovagnoli’s, contended that the barn was a commercial rather than agricultural use, and therefore required a special exception from the zoning board.

But in a letter sent to the zoning board last week, attorney John Sokul requested the hearing be postponed until August or September so his clients could try to resolve their concerns with the planning board. Sokul wrote that his request was a result of both a discussion he’d had with the town’s building inspector and a May 31 letter to the zoning board from the planning board’s attorney, which argued that the proposed operation is an explicit agricultural use.

Based on those, “my understanding of the factual background is slightly different than when I filed the appeal,” he wrote.

Sokul did not specify yesterday what had changed but did indicate that the next move will be Giovagnoli’s.

“Once (Giovagnoli) provides additional information and details about his proposal – as required by local regulations and as requested by the planning board – we will review it and go from there,” he wrote in an email.

In Sokul’s initial appeal, he wrote that the 44-foot by 588-foot barn, in which Giovagnoli plans to house 20,000 laying hens, as a commercial use because of its size and scope.

“The extent of odors, noise, dust and other impacts that would be generated by the Development are the very types of impacts associated with commercial uses for which (zoning board) review and approval is required,” he wrote. “For these reasons, this Board should reverse the . . . Decision by the Planning Board.”

But in her May 31 letter to the zoning board, the planning board’s attorney, Laura Spector-Morgan, wrote that scale is irrelevant when determining whether an operation is agricultural under the town’s zoning ordinance.

“The ordinance does not distinguish between small and large agricultural uses, nor does it distinguish between commercial and noncommercial agricultural uses,” Spector-Morgan wrote. “It permits all . . . agricultural uses, including that proposed by Mr. Giovagnoli.”

Building Inspector Kyle Parker was unavailable yesterday for comment.

Giovagnoli’s property is zoned as low-density residential, which permits agricultural uses, including poultry, as long as the operation is offset at least 100 feet from the property line.

He is still subject to a site plan review, though – the first step of which was completed when he made an initial presentation to the planning board in April.

Several neighbors and town residents voiced concern at that meeting and have since come forward to argue that the poultry operation could contaminate wetlands and nearby wells, lower property values and pose a serious detriment to surrounding air quality. They have also said Twist Hill Road cannot support year-round the large trucks that would transport Giovagnoli’s eggs, and they’ve questioned whether the 49-year-old mechanic and part-time farmer will adhere to state and local environmental regulations.

The next step in the site plan review will come when Giovagnoli returns to the planning board to provide more details about the operation. That could have happened this month – the planning board’s next meeting is June 19 – but Giovagnoli asked for a deferral until a later date, said wplanning board co-Chairman Ken Swayze.

Giovagnoli, who plans to manage the operation with his 19-year-old son and sell the eggs to Pete and Gerry’s Organics out of Monroe, said yesterday that he wants more time to reach out to neighbors and try to address their concerns directly.

(Jeremy Blackman can be reached at 369-3319,
jblackman@cmonitor.com or on Twitter @JBlackmanCM.)

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