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Dunbarton Planning Board moves closer to vote on chicken coop

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)

The Dunbarton Planning Board reviewed plans for a proposed 27,000-square-foot chicken coop for the third time last night and moved closer to a vote on what would be, if approved, the town’s largest building.

Tom Giovagnoli, 49, sat quietly at the front of last night’s meeting with his attorney, John Cronin, and engineer Jen McCourt as the two advocated yet again for his proposal to build the organic poultry barn.

Pete and Gerry’s Organic Eggs, a Monroe-based company, would sell the eggs hatched by more than 20,000 chickens in the barn on Giovagnoli’s 85-acre farm on Twist Hill Road.

“We’re getting toward the end,” planning board Chairman Ken Swayze said. “This has gone on longer than the average proposal because it is a complex project.”

But before the end, the planning board will review two reports on the project from outside consultants, and Giovagnoli’s team will need to submit even more details about the giant coop.

While most discussion so far has been about the chickens while they are inside the barn and the automated system that would manage their manure, the board asked questions about outdoor space planned for the chickens – a piece of the proposal not yet explored in detail.

McCourt told the board the chickens would be able to leave the barn to go into a fenced-in but still outdoor area between noon and dusk.

Planning board member George Holt said he was specifically concerned about the manure the chickens might leave outside during the day, away from the barn’s secure waste storage.

That manure is “a very minimal amount that you’re talking about during those hours,” McCourt said.

But Holt wanted more information about what that space would look like and how Giovagnoli would manage manure in that outdoor pen.

“Over the course of decades, (the manure) is going to be a lot,” Holt said. “And the issue is, where’s the storm water from that going to go? . . . That needs to be addressed.”

Despite concern over area property values that have been raised again and again by angry abutters, the board determined Giovagnoli would not need to submit any more information about how his chickens would affect home appraisals in the area. Swayze did ask Cronin to explain why he did not feel that review was necessary during this process.

“The abutters were talking about devaluation of their property because they felt that a farm would do that,” Swayze said. “You need to respond to that somehow and articulate that and defend your position that that will not happen . . . or allow us to hire a consultant to articulate that for you.

“I mean, come up with something.”

The board’s decision should be based on what is and what is not permitted to be built on Giovagnoli’s property, Cronin said, and additional appraisals might not reflect the fact that some buyers might value an agricultural community more than others.

“It’s my view from the law . . . (surrounding property values are) not really relevant to your decision here,” Cronin said.

During a three-hour public hearing in October, not a single abutter spoke in favor of Giovagnoli’s plan. Swayze asked the members of the public gathered last night not to rehash old concerns or criticisms at length.

“The other thing I want to ask your assistance and help in, we don’t want to delve continuously in the past violations or credibilty or character of Mr. Giovagnoli,” Swayze said. “The planning board is not a police department.”

And more voices among the roughly 30 people gathered last night came to the farmer’s defense during the period for public comment.

“Where do we get our food from?” asked Lee-Anna Bruzga, who lives near Giovagnoli’s farm. “We have to have some sort of stable agriculture, and for us not to support that is shameful.”

Giovagnoli’s 23-year-old son Andrew also stood to speak for his father.

“Moving into an entirely agricultural town is what we wanted as a family,” Andrew Giovagnoli said. “And now to move into an entirely agricultural town and to have everybody stand here and say we’re encroaching on your environment, I’m sorry, we bought our house back in 2000, and (Dunbarton) was still as fully agricultural as it is today.”

But many neighbors remain unconvinced and unsupportive of the barn. Several abutters raised concerns about the promised 60-foot buffer of trees around the barn that is meant to help with odor control, saying the trees that are present in that area are not enough to keep the barn out of sight – and smell – from their properties.

“I would just remind you that just because it is not prohibited does not mean it should be allowed,” one Twist Hill Road resident said. “I think we’re being bamboozled here with a lot of vague information.”

After the meeting, Giovagnoli said he was “pleasantly surprised” to hear some of the towns’ residents rally behind his proposal.

“It went a lot better” than the last meeting, he said with a chuckle.

Les Hammond, select board chairman and a member of the planning board, said he and the others need to consider two outside reports from consultants who recently reviewed the project as well.

“We’ve got a lot of stuff to read,” he said.

Giovagnoli remained quiet but confident that he will someday be able to build his organic barn.

“I felt we answered a lot of questions, and hopefully we’ll answer the rest of them next time,” Giovagnoli said.

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

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