Farm Island

The proposed development of Farm Island in 19-Mile Bay on Lake Winnipesaukee is at the center of a lawsuit pitting YMCA Camp Belknap against the town of Tuftonboro and the local planning board.

TUFTONBORO — YMCA Camp Belknap wants a judge to overturn a Oct. 17 decision by the Tuftonboro Planning Board approving a 10-lot subdivision on Farm Island in 19-Mile Bay on Lake Winnipesaukee.

The nonprofit camp, which purchased 7 1/2 acres on the island in 2010, filed suit in Carroll County Superior Court on Nov. 14, contending the project-specific conditions that the land use board imposed are insufficient to protect the town, nearby landowners and the public.

The camp’s attorney, Matthew R. Johnson of Devine, Millimet & Branch P.A., of Manchester, argued the planning board didn’t fully consider the impact the proposed development would have on the water quality, the fragile loon population and the archaeological resources on the 13.3 unspoiled acres at issue, which have been owned by generations of the Winchester family since 1905.

Multiple hearings on the project attracted dozens of constituencies, many of whom objected to the development of the island, which has not seen any residential or permanent use since the 1950s, according to the suit.

Boys who attend the 116-year-old YMCA camp each summer paddle canoes from the base camp on the Tuftonboro shore for the chance to sleep on the island beneath the stars. The bulk of the island is now owned by brothers David, Donald and John Winchester.

The uninhabited summer house built by Maria and George Winchester in 1906, the only dwelling ever built on the island, still stands. It has no running water, electricity or septic, according to a listing by Maxfield Real Estate, which offered the property at $1,495,000, reduced from $2 million. The house is listed as “active under contract.”

According to the complaint, which names both the town and the planning board as defendants, the Winchesters have signed a purchase-and-sale agreement with C&R Realty Trust, owned by Randy Owen and Cynthia Pratt, who were the applicants for the subdivision.

Among the issues raised in the suit are the developers’ inexperience and the island’s mostly untouched condition. Its most intensive use was at the turn of the 20th century, when it was used as pasture for farm animals.

“There is no known precedent in Tuftonboro or even on the lake itself for a subdivision of an undeveloped and ecologically sensitive island,” the suit reads. “The Tuftonboro Master Plan specifically requires the planning board to balance the needs of the applicant with the needs of the community as a whole. The planning board paid lip service to this balancing but then did not engage in any meaningful analysis of whether it was appropriate to permit a 10-lot subdivision on Farm Island.”

The suit notes the camp paid for an archaeological survey, which reported the site is a potentially invaluable window into the past and a source for pre-contact Native American and post-contact European American archaeological resources.

Johnson said the planning board acted unreasonably and unlawfully in asking the court to send the case back to the planning board for a full and proper consideration of the applicant’s plan.

Wednesday, January 15, 2020