Planning board chairman says ex-official asked to squash gun range

By Ray Carbone

WARNER – At a public hearing regarding the application for a proposed retail gun shop and firing range last week, the chairman of the planning board said that he had recently received a phone call from a former town official who asked if there was a legal way to terminate the firearm operation’s application.

“I paused,” Ben Frost told the group of about 25 people in the Town Hall audience. “Then I told this person that it was an inappropriate question to ask, but it would also be grossly inappropriate for me to answer.”

Frost said it wasn’t proper for anyone to ask how to use the town’s legal process to halt a legally submitted application. “That’s now how this board operates,” he said, “and that’s not how any board should operate.”

The same night last week that Warner’s planning board met, the Hopkinton selectmen voted to join in support of the legal action against the town’s ZBA decision to let the firearms development move ahead.

Frost said that in his role as planning board chairman, as well as his profession as an attorney and as a professional planner, it wouldn’t be proper to discuss how to derail the shooting range plan. “I took an oath to uphold the Constitution for both the state of New Hampshire and the United States,” he continued, adding that he was obliged to always be “fair, objective and honest.”

Frost did not name the official who called him but said that he extolled the virtues of MadgeTech, Inc., the high-tech company that’s been at the forefront of opposition to the facility. The caller addressed how the 20-year-old business has benefited the town and that it employs many local people.

But Frost rejected the caller’s plea to somehow favor MadgeTech over the applicant. “We’ve all taken an oath of office,” the chairman said he told the caller.

After the comments, both Norman Carlson, MadgeTech’s president and founder, and Eric Miller, the applicant for the firearms facility, joined the small crowd in applauding Frost’s remarks.

Frost’s unusual comments reflected tensions that have been building ever since early March when Miller announced his plan to build a $1.4-million modern, environmentally conscious retail gun store and shooting range.

Initially, public support seemed to favor the project. When it was presented to the planning board and the zoning board of adjustment, several people said the area could use an indoor shooting range. They also praised Miller’s plans for mitigating noise and possible pollution issues.

But in recent weeks, opposition has grown. MadgeTech’s president and founder Carlson said that if the shooting facility is built next to his plant, he will move the company out of town. He also complained that neither he nor two other abutters to the 2.9-acre lot on the edge of the Davisville State Forest were properly notified of the recent town hearings. Like others, Carlson has raised concerns about public safety, noise and possible pollution issues. Last month, he requested that the two boards re-schedule their public hearings.

The ZBA turned aside the request and Carlson then appealed that decision to Merrimack Superior Court. A court ruling on the legality of the ZBA decision is expected in late June.

The planning board did consider rescheduling a hearing, especially after some Hopkinton residents complained that the project would be closer to their Contoocook village than to Warner, which made it of regional impact. So the planning group voted to invite representatives of the neighboring town as well as representatives of the Central NH Regional Planning Commission to participate in an upcoming meeting on May 13.

The same night last week that Warner’s planning board met, the Hopkinton selectmen voted to join in support of Carlson’s legal action against the town’s ZBA decision to let the firearms development move ahead.

Recently, the InterTown Record learned contacted the two abutters that Carlson complained were not property notified about the recent hearings. Representatives of both the NH Department of Transportation and the state Division of Forests and Lands indicated that they have no objections to the firearms facility.

This story first appeared in the InterTown Record of Sutton, N.H., on May 9, 2017.

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