Warner planning board okays gun range, but court case will delay project

(Above: A stylistic illustration of the proposed gun shooting range/retail store in the area near the intersection of Route 103 and Warner Road.)

By Ray Carbone

WARNER – The town planning board has unanimously approved a proposal to build a $1.4-million, 11,800 square-foot shooting range and retail gun store on Warner Road, near exit 7 off Interstate 93.

But construction of the controversial project could still be sidetracked by a Merrimack County Superior Court case scheduled to begin this week.

The planning board held its sixth public meeting on the project proposed by Eric Miller of Sutton at the town hall on Monday, June 19. Miller wants to build a high-tech, 16-lane facility on a 2.9-acre lot adjacent to the Davisville State Forest.

Some area residents are in favor of the facility, but others say having a shooting range in the area is a bad idea. Several Hopkinton residents who live nearby as well as officials with the Hopkinton school district, are against the idea; Hopkinton Middle High School is located several miles from the land.

‘A shooting range is consistent with the zoning district. And, it would be inappropriate and illegal to chose winners and losers among (local business operations.)’ 

– Planning Board Chairman Ben Frost

The most prominent opposition has come from Norman Carlson, the founder and president of Madgetech, LLC, the town’s 20-year-old high tech company. Carlson’s plant is next to the proposed site and he’s said he will move the facility out of Warner if the shooting range is built. Some of his 50-plus employees have safety concerns about the nearness of the gun range, he’s said.

At the June 19 meeting, both Carlson and his attorney, Paul Alfano of Concord, displayed some displeasure with the planning board’s activities.

Vice-chairman Barbara Annis said that workers at the new shooting facility would be paid more than minimum wage, similar to Madgetech’s employees. A few moments later, Davis was answering a board member’s question about the ambient noise level at the proposed facility when Alfano asked if he could also respond.

Chairman Ben Frost turned the request aside, saying that the public hearing portion of the case had already been closed.

“I’d like to see the study (Mr. Davis mentioned),” the lawyer replied. “Our whole emphasis (in the court challenge) has been to provide information that’s specific to this site.”

Davis said it would be difficult to accurately measure noise from the shooting facility because of other ambient noise sources in the area.

“I could measure it,” Carlson retorted.

Earlier in the meeting, the board reviewed an environmental impact report that focused on how Davis’s facility with deal with hazardous materials, including lead. The members asked the prospective owner to agree to abide by recommendations in the report, and Davis did so.

The group also asked the new facility’s owner to specifically ban alcohol and illegal drugs from the premises, and to post a sign about the restriction. Again, he agreed.

Before the board’s final vote on the project, Alfano noted that Davis had submitted additional information about his project only days before.

“I think the public deserves the opportunity to meaningful review and comment (on the new materials),” the lawyer said.

The attorney also mentioned Frost’s remark regarding an email that Frost had sent to other board members earlier in the week that included a draft proposal of the final ruling. Alfano claimed the message violated the state’s right-to-know regulations.

Frost disagreed, saying the members couldn’t respond to his email and, therefore, the communications did not violate prohibitions against board members deliberating outside of a public meeting. “There was no deliberation,” the chairman said.

“Of course there was,” Alfano retorted.

“Your objections are noted,” Frost replied.

In its final deliberations, the board turned aside complaints related to possible off-site noise, as well as the possibility of increased traffic problems. The members said that the location, and Davis’s ambitious noise-control measures, made additional restrictions unnecessary.

The board’s final decision took note of objections that have been raised about the new business’s impact on the region, and regarding language in the town’s Master Plan directives related to supporting existing businesses.

“A shooting range is consistent with the zoning district,” Chairman Frost said in reply. “And, it would be inappropriate and illegal to chose winners and losers among (local business operations.)”

The chairman said the planning board is not the place to address public safety concerns. “Those concerns must be expressed in a different venue, such as in the New Hampshire Legislature or the United States Congress,” he said.

Carlson refused to make any public comment after the hearing. Davis said he was confident he would prevail in the upcoming court proceedings.

The pending court challenge was initiated by Carlson’s company. It claims that the Warner zoning board of adjustment violated town regulations when it held a public hearing on the shooting facility project in the spring without properly notifying abutters, including Madgetech and two state agencies (among them, the division of forests and lands). It requests that the court direct the ZBA to rehear the building proposal, allowing for input related to regional impact and other concerns.

Late last week, Davis said that attorneys representing his business, the town, and Madgetech had a telephone conference with the Merrimack Superior Court judge on Friday to review the upcoming legal challenge. The judge hopes to resolve several legal motions this week with an eye towards making a final decision on the ZBA issue at a later time.

This story first appeared in the InterTown Record, Sutton, N.H., on June 27, 2017.

 

 

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Special New London (NH) Tracy Library plant stolen – again

By Ray Carbone

NEW LONDON – For the second time in two years, a valuable Japanese maple tree has been stolen from the community garden around the Tracy Memorial Library.

Sandra Licks, the library’s director, said that the most recent theft was discovered about a month ago. “Someone just dug it out and made off with it,” she said. “It’s a bit odd and kind of sad.”

Donna Ferries, president of the nonprofit Garden at Tracy Library volunteer organization that oversees the garden, said she and other members of her group are upset about the vandalism. “Particularly when it’s happened a second time,” she said.

The small tree was first installed in 2016 to honor long-time area resident Sue Little, who oversaw a restoration of the original 1927 garden about 15 years ago, Ferries explained.

“It was (planted) when she resigned from the board,” the current president said of her predecessor. (Little lived in the New London area until recently, she added.) Last year, the group waited about a month after the original theft before replacing the plant last year.

Licks said that Sue Ellen Weeds-Park, the professional gardener who manages the plantings, told her that the most recent incident occurred around May 15.

‘Someone just dug it out and made off with it. It’s a bit odd and kind of sad.’

Tracy Memorial Library Director Sandra Licks

After both thefts, New London Police were notified, Ferries said. “They’ve offered to install a camera,” she noted.

The plant theft is not the first vandalism in the garden. “We have a beautiful fountain,” Ferries said, “and last year, somebody tried to lift it out. And, in doing so, they broke off a water spout.” The valuable copper fixture cost about $1,000 to repair, a cost that was divided between the gardening group and the library trustees, she explained.

The original Morgan Homestead property, on the corner of Main and Pleasant streets, was purchased in 1918 by long-time summer resident Jane Tracy with the goal of converting it into a town library and community center. The building briefly served as the town’s original hospital before work began on the garden area. When it was completed, the grounds included a square garden area surrounded by lilac bushes, four L-shaped beds of flowers surrounded by grass paths and other plantings.

Photographs from the era show a community landmark that many residents enjoyed, but over the years, the property was neglected. By the 1990s, all that remained of the original garden were some trees and shrubs. Interest in the grounds then revived, and in the early 2000s, a restoration project, lead by then-Garden at Tracy President Little, returned it to its original picturesque state and community asset.

The stolen plant is known as an Acer palmatum, or “waterfall,” Japanese elm. “It’s a special variety, grown just to be very, very full and its branches cascade down like a waterfall,” Ferries said. “I have one and it only grows about three-feet high.

“I think they’re worth somewhere between $60 and $80,” she explained. “In New York, they chain them down, chain them to rocks (for security).”

Licks said the location of the small woody plant, by a shed and near the property line, may have been a factor in the thefts. “It’s not in a highly visible area,” she said.

Ferries confirmed that the garden group is considering that possibility. “When we do replant it, we’re wondering if we should put it in the same place,” the president said. “We may want to put in an area that’s more visible.”

This story first appeared in the InterTown Record of Sutton, New Hampshire, on Tuesday, June 13, 2017.

New Warner NH liquor store slated to open next month

By Ray Carbone

WARNER – State officials are expecting the new NH Liquor & Wine Outlet off Route 103 to open earlier than originally predicted.

J. Powers, who provides communication services for the NH Liquor Commission, said late last week that the 10,500-square-foot retail store is expected to open July, but not before the July Fourth weekend.

“Construction is proceeding along well, so we’ll have an announcement later this month,” Powers said. “In terms of a specific opening date, it’s right around the corner. We’re ahead of schedule.”

“With 2,200 wines, 1,400 spirits, (and)  iPad kiosks that will (let people) consider wine-food pairings.”

The new store, which is located in the same shopping center where McDonalds, CircleK/Dunkin Donuts, Aubuchon Hardware and the Market Basket supermarket are currently located. The commission will be leasing the building from the Market Basket company, which is based in Massachusetts.

Selectman Clyde Carson, who worked with the municipal group that helped locate the store, said town leaders are pleased with the result. “The project goes back a few years,” he explained. “The selectmen were aware that the state wanted to put a liquor store at that location. The state had a choice. They could have bought one of the adjoining lots (to the plaza), or they could have worked with Market Basket, to have them build the building to their specifications. And that’s what the town leaders wanted.

“From our perspective, that was the best. Market Basket owning it, that brings tax revenue to the town,” Carson added. “If the state bought its own property, then the lot would be off the tax roles, and the building and the property isn’t taxable.”

Joseph Mollica, chairman of the liquor commission, said the state will also benefit from the new store. “Strategically located in a busy plaza and easily accessible to the traveling public, particularly those visiting the Mount Sunapee region, we expect this store to drive considerable revenue for the state of New Hampshire and support critical services and programs, including education, health and social services, transportation and natural resource protection,” he said at the time of last year’s announcement. “We expect this new store to pay major dividends for New Hampshire.”

State Sen. Dan Feltes, who represents Warner, agreed, adding that the new store should also expand economic opportunities for town residents and increase tourism along the I-89 corridor.

The location, by exit 9 off Interstate 89, will be exposed to 28,500 motorists daily which is expected to result in $5.5 million in annual sales, Powers explained. Customers will be able to choose from a selection of about 2,200 wines and about 1,400 spirits in a state-of-the-art shopping environment that includes sections devoted to premium and ultra-premium spirits, high-end wines and temperature/humidity-controlled wine vaults, and iPad kiosks that will allow customers to review inventory and consider wine-food pairings.

This story first appeared in the InterTown Record of Sutton, N.H., on June 6, 2017.

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