(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.