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Dunbarton chicken coop opponents come out in force at public hearing

More than 50 people attended a public planning board hearing last night in Dunbarton to voice their concerns about a proposed 27,000-square-foot organic chicken coop on a local farm – and not a single neighbor spoke in favor of building the barn.

Should Tom Giovagnoli, 49, be permitted to build the poultry barn on his 85-acre property, the structure would house 20,000 chickens and be the largest building in Dunbarton. He would run a completely organic operation, he said, and Monroe-based Pete and Gerry’s Organic Eggs has already said it would buy the eggs from his farm.

Giovagnoli and his 19-year-old son, Eric, sat near the front of the crowd in a gym at Dunbarton Elementary School, flanked by representatives from Pete and Gerry’s, an attorney and the engineer who has compiled a site plan of the 85-acre farm.

Together, they laid out poster boards and a PowerPoint presentation for the planning board and residents, hoping to sway them in favor of the coop.

But the experts seemed only to ruffle local feathers more, and neighbors spent most of the nearly three-hour hearing complaining about the barn.

“I will speak for the people here,” abutter Merl Chapman said to the Pete and Gerry’s representatives. “You are not welcome here.”

Engineer Jen McCourt presented her site-review plan to the crowd, trying to assure residents that the 1,200 gallons of water per day the building would need would be manageable and that trees would hide the barn from passers-by and neighbors. Her site plan is available at the town office.

Kevin Phelps, a production manager for Pete and Gerry’s, also delivered a PowerPoint presentation to the crowd with specific details about the layout of the mechanized poultry barn proposed for Giovagnoli’s property, as well as the rigorous inspections the company completes to make sure its products remain organic.

“We want our family farmers to be good neighbors,” Phelps said. “We want our contract farmers to get along with their neighbors.”

He also tried to assure the town that the farm wouldn’t smell because of the concrete-enclosed space to store manure that would eventually be trucked off the property. But many residents didn’t buy it, and odorous manure was one of the main concerns for those who live near Giovagnoli’s property on Twist Hill Road.

Anthony Pinot was one of several attendees who received a round of applause from other opponents after they spoke. He stood with a sheaf of paper in his hand and detailed his own trip to a Pete and Gerry’s farm in Monroe.

“Half a mile from the site the smell was horrifying,” he said. “You people say you didn’t smell anything? You better check again. The smell on a fall, 62-degree day was nauseating and foul.”

Another neighbor questioned Giovagnoli’s plans to someday expand to a free-range operation, meaning his chickens might be allowed outside the stink-proof coop.

“Do you think the chickens are going to hold it when they go outside?” she challenged.

Others raised concerns about a decrease in their property values if 20,000 chickens moved into the neighborhood. There are 122 homes within a half-mile radius of Giovagnoli’s farm, said Tim Terragni, chairman of the board of assessors.

“I promise you the buyers I work with every day, they’re not going to want to come to Dunbarton,” a local real estate agent said.

Two area farmers – one from Bedford and one from New Boston – did speak in favor of Giovagnoli’s operation. Both were interested in buying chicken manure collected from his coop to use as fertilizer.

“Getting chicken manure is gold,” Steve Blais of Bedford said. “As far as getting rid of the manure, he’s not going to have an issue.”

After the hearing, McCourt carried her display boards and their stand from the gym. Tired, she shrugged off negative comments

“I would just like to stress the information we (presented) is based on scientific fact instead of anecdotal feeling,” McCourt said.

She’ll be returning to her plans and adding to her work for another planning board meeting on the proposal in November.

Les Hammond, chairman of the board of selectmen and also a member of the planning board, held his own file of paperwork to review between now and the next meeting.

“All this stuff, this is the first time . . . we’re seeing it,” he said of the presentation. “We’ve got to work with them to tell them what (additional information) we want.”

Hammond said the overwhelmingly negative comments from neighbors and abutters would be a factor for the planning board to consider along with the paperwork and plans submitted by Giovagnoli. He and the other planning board members will need to consider whether the board can find solutions to their complaints.

“Maybe we can take care of it, maybe we can’t,” Hammond said.

Giovagnoli and his son said they would not be discouraged by the negative comments from neighbors.

“I think some of it was expected,” he said after the meeting. “We have to separate the facts from the fear.”

He clustered with his son and the representatives from Pete and Gerry’s in the gym as it emptied, and they tried to bolster each other to keep moving forward.

“We’ve got to keep working on it, keep working on the dream,” Eric Giovagnoli said.

(Megan Doyle can be reached at 369-3321 or or on Twitter @megan_e_doyle.)

Legacy Comments9

What a bunch of childish whiners in Dunbarton. Our founding fathers are turning in their graves over the absolute attack on freedom, liberty and free will to create a living for oneself. The folks living a half mile away are just another example of the weaklings our citizenry has become. Horrific smell? I don't think so from a half a mile away......realtors worried about housing values are really worried about their own wallets. Here is a man who will add value in so many ways and the high faluting folks in Dunbarton are simply saying NIMBY.

I don't live in Dunbarton, so my opinion doesn't mean much here. However, I have to say that increasing the number of organic operations of any kind makes the world a better place. Organic eggs are just better for you, and the environmental impact is actually positive, compared to non-organic egg production. Perhaps the select board could take a field trip to Monroe and see for themselves what kind of odors carry from the barn. Make sure to get down-wind. Then remember that it's zoned agricultural. Doesn't that suggest that farms take precedence over residences, regardless of how long those residences have been there?

We are a rural state. Farming(and logging, sugaring, hunting, fishing, trapping, etc, etc, etc) are woven into the fabric of life here. Anyone who doesn't like it should go back where they came from. And just to clarify one thing, not every person who moves here from somewhere else is automatically against the traditions we hold dear. Many people come here BECAUSE they want to participate in those traditions. Don't assume that a flatlander is anti-"old New Hampshire" just because they're a flatlander. And Flatlanders - don't assume you can move up to NH and then commence to change it into the thing that you left in the first place.

Since I come from a real agricultural state, not a pretend one, let me say there's a big difference between someone moving next door to a farm and then complaining about the smell and a farm moving next door to you.

Well, Town of Dunbarton; another fine mess you've gotten in to by allowing all those yuppies from away to come in with their McMansions and funny ideas of what New Hampshire is. One of the purposes stated in the Dunbarton Zoning Ordinance is to"..preserve agricultural lands and buildings..." It further allows that "livestock, poultry and swine" are allowed uses, and the only proviso I can find is footnote # 7 provides that "animals shall be no closer than 100 feet to any property line." To deny an allowed use, or to overburden it with unreasonable conditions, constitutes a taking by the Town of Dunbarton and the town will be ordered by the court to compensate Mr Giovagnoli. On another point, I have also driven by a Pete and Gerry's barn and could smell nothing. Anyone who states "the smell was horrifying" is telling a bold faced lie, and that person's statement should be stricken from the record, and once caught in a lie, anything else offered by that person becomes suspect. Sure, Mr Giovagnoli could find another use for his property; last I checked Dunbarton did not have its fair share of low income housing (opps, we must be politically correct; it is now "work force housing" even though most of them don't work) as defined by the State of New Hampshire. I wonder what the neighbors would think of that.

Two attendees visited the Pete and Gerry’s chicken farm in Monroe and came back with somewhat differing olfactory findings: the planning board chair (according to an earlier story) reported no smell at all right at the coop; but one neighbor claims that, “Half a mile from the site the smell was horrifying.” Diametrically opposed. Readers need a reporter to referee the facts by visiting the site. Please step up, Monitor: it would be in the public interest.

If they're in an agricultural zone, which is what the CM reported to be the case in earlier coverage of this proposal, I'd like to know on what grounds the town is going to stop him. This is the rural aspect of our State, and if you don't like the smells associated with a farm, then don't move out to the country with your quaint idealism.

Righteous on! Farm out and soiled.

Isnt this a permit use in the town of dunbarton? my question is why would someone buy a home in a district zoned for farming if they didnt want to live next to a farm. The farmer already has cows on the property,he used to have 30 to 40 pigs right at the house barn with no complaints.he been spreading cow and chicken manure on his fields for at least 10 years with no complaints. Mr giovagnoli bought his 85acre lot over 10 years ago after doing research and chose to buy his property here so he could build a farm and farm HIS land.

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