DUNBARTON — Tom Giovagnoli's plan to build a barn for 20,000 egg-laying hens has been rejected by the planning board, and he is now considering subdividing the 85 acres of farm land for homes.
"It's already public knowledge that if I can't use the land for what I want to do, I'll subdivide it," he said.
Giovagnoli first went before the board in April seeking to build a 27,000-square-foot barn on his Twist Hill Road property with plans to sell eggs produced by cage-free and organic-certified hens to Pete and Gerry's Organic Eggs of Monroe.
After months of planning board meetings, legal and engineering costs, and facing opposition from abutters, Giovagnoli said he has fulfilled the board's request for information. He and his son, Eric, arrived without legal and engineering representation at the Dec. 18 public hearing, and pressed board members to make a decision and approve the site plan with conditions. However, the board said all the required information has not been provided and written on the site plan. At the meeting, members repeatedly asked Giovagnoli to request a 90-day extension.
"I can't continue to repeat the same thing meeting after meeting. A meeting costs me $10,000," he said. "Give me conditional approval and write down what is conditional and I'll either accept it or not."
Chairman Ken Swayze and the other six board members agreed that's not how the process works.
"I need to know what I'm voting on. I need it in writing. I need it on the record," said member Alison Vallieres.In the past, Giovagnoli was asked to address potential impacts on surrounding properties such as water and air quality, devaluation of surrounding properties, and operations concerning nitrate management. At the Nov. 20 meeting, the board asked about Giovagnoli's plan for an outdoor pen for the chickens, something that had not been thoroughly discussed.
Engineer Jennifer McCourt told the board the chickens would be able to run free in a fenced outdoor area from noon to dusk, prompting board member George Holt to voice his concern about how the chickens' manure would be treated away from the barn's waste storage system.
This is one of the missing items from the site plan, said the board on Wednesday. But Giovagnoli said the board has made the distinction between agricultural and commercial site plan requirements.
"Where is it written a site plan is required in an agricultural zone?" he said. "It's against state law for you to create hardship. You're putting me out of business before I even get started."
Swayze said a change of use and development requires a site plan review, and no plan will get approval unless it's complete.
During public comment on Dec. 18 some residents sided with Giovagnoli— a trend that has been occurring as more hearings on the matter take place. Mike Bergeron asked how many times does the farmer need to come before the board to get approval, and another person said all Giovagnoli wants to do is produce eggs and be a farmer.
Giovagnoli also said his existing barn could hold 40,000 hens in cages, but he would rather build a barn and grow chickens organically.
"What he's saying is true. If he put chickens in that barn we wouldn't be here," said Swayze.
Swayze said he didn't think the board was asking too much because all they want is a complete plan.
"We're trying to be fair here to everyone. You have a farm and I think you can all co-exist," he said, referring to abutters and residents.
Before voting, the board asked Giovagnoli again if he wanted an extension, to which he responded no. The board voted unanimously to deny the site plan because of inadequate information.
After the meeting, Giovagnoli said he will be speaking with his attorney about "the legality of what the town has done."
Giovagnoli said he believes the board ignored the site plan criteria as stated in the town's regulations.
"The only agricultural use that requires a site plan review is a veterinarian," he said. "I should have gotten my permit."