Planning board denies poultry barn for 20,000 chickens in Dunbarton
After nearly nine months of public meetings with town officials and criticism from neighbors, a farmer appears to have given up his fight to build a massive chicken coop on his property in Dunbarton.
Planning board Chairman George Holt said Tom Giovagnoli and his son came to a public hearing Wednesday night alone, unaccompanied by the lawyer and engineer who have helped him develop a plan for a 27,000-square-foot poultry barn on his Twist Hill Road farm.
Giovagnoli had asked the board to approve what would be the biggest building in Dunbarton – a coop where 20,000 chickens would lay organic eggs. When he presented his plan to the board again last month, it asked Giovagnoli and his team to come back with more details, such as how chicken manure outdoors would affect the area’s water and where the barn needed to be relative to a buffer of trees around the property.
But Wednesday night, Giovagnoli told the board he needed an answer before he spent more money to develop the plans.
Les Hammond, board of selectmen chairman and representative to the planning board, said he encouraged Giovagnoli to keep pressing his case Tuesday night. He even offered the help of a town employee in looking over the requirements for the plan again so it could be accepted.
“I said, ‘Tom, the vote’s going to be we’re going to deny it. Why don’t you ask for a 30-day extension and get these things on the plan?’ He said, ‘Nope, I’m not spending another dime,’ ” Hammond said.
The vote to deny Giovagnoli’s poultry barn was unanimous. Holt said Giovagnoli could appeal the board’s decision or resubmit his plan with more information.
“At the meeting, Mr. Giovagnoli requested that we vote on the application, and it was our decision that the materials we had in front of us were incomplete and did not incorporate any of the changes that we requested for the plan,” Holt said. “It’s very unfortunate.”
Giovagnoli could not be reached for comment yesterday, but engineer Jen McCourt said he decided he could not continue the site plan review she had been leading.
“Tom had basically reached the end,” McCourt said.
Giovagnoli had asked why he needed to go through the planning board’s review process, while property owners in the area who wanted to construct horse barns needed only a simple building permit.
But Holt said Giovagnoli needed to answer so many questions for the planning board because of the size and scale of his proposed barn.
“It was just a question of having all the information present and accounted for before he went and did it,” Holt said.
Giovagnoli planned to sell his eggs to Pete and Gerry’s Organic Eggs, a Monroe-based company. Jesse Laflamme, who runs Pete and Gerry’s, said he was surprised the planning board denied “an agricultural project in an agricultural area.”
“It’s really in Tom’s hands,” Laflamme said. “I don’t know where he’ll go from here.”
Robert and Catherine Van Norstrand live in the neighborhood, and at a November planning board meeting, Catherine Van Norstrand stood to read lengthy prepared remarks against Giovagnoli’s plan.
“Dunbarton is a beautiful little town,” Catherine Van Norstrand said yesterday. “It is a country way of life and we all moved here for the right reasons.”
And Giovagnoli’s barn, she said, wouldn’t be right for the town where she and her neighbors have made their lives.
“To have 20,000 chickens in the middle of hundreds of homes and hundreds of children and hundreds of people, it wasn’t appropriate,” she said.
(Megan Doyle can be reached at 369-3321 or firstname.lastname@example.org or on Twitter @megan_e_doyle.)