Henniker: Planning board okays weddings on Forster Christmas tree farm

  • Stephen Forster is the owner of Forster’s Christmas Tree Farm in Henniker, April 14, 2016. (ELIZABETH FRANTZ / Monitor staff) Elizabeth Frantz

Monitor staff
Published: 4/27/2016 11:13:19 PM

Weddings are back on at Stephen Forster’s Christmas tree farm on Mount Hunger Road after the Henniker planning board voted, 6-1, to approve his site plan.

The board decided Forster’s plan was within the zoning regulations, including the town’s definition of agritourism, approved by voters in March.

“It meant something or we wouldn’t have done it,” said planning board member Rick Patenaude of the decision by voters to redefine agritourism to include weddings and other functions.

The board juggled an abundance of information and arguments delivered by Forster and his supporters, as well abutters to his property, including two developers who own subdivided land across the street from the farm.

One of the developers, Stephen Bennett, said wedding receptions are not agritourism and abutters will be affected negatively by noise and traffic on the road.

“It interrupts the tranquility of the neighborhood and is a safety hazard” to abutters as well as wedding attendants, he said.

Ralph Joyce also spoke in opposition, saying Forster’s weddings – as many as 18 in one year – will drive down the value of neighboring properties, especially those that have not yet been developed.

“Possible residents don’t have this expectation” of being near a wedding site, Joyce said. “Weddings until 11 (p.m.) 18 weekends in a row? Welcome to the neighborhood.”

But their arguments were deemed moot when the board weighed Forster’s proposal against Henniker ordinances. In March, voters approved adding “on-farm weddings and similar events” under the definition of agritourism.

On the same ballot, voters approved adding four requirements for the board to consider before issuing a conditional use permit under agritourism. This includes public safety, preserving the neighborhood’s character, the impact on neighbors and preserving the surrounding environment.

The board decided Forster’s plan met these regulations and approved it.

“I believe Mr. Forster has complied with everything we have asked him to do,” said board member and Selectwoman Tia Hooper.

Board Chairman Ron Taylor was the lone vote against the plan.

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