By Ray Carbone
WARNER – Eric Miller, the Sutton resident who wants to build a $1.4-million, 11,800 square-foot shooting range and retail gun store on Warner Road attended a hearing in the Merrimack County Superior Court several weeks ago. Afterwards, he said he would wait until Judge Richard McNamara had ruled on several appeals from Miller’s abutters before moving ahead with any construction plans. But the entrepreneur had a change of heart.
Miller recently completed the purchase of the 2.9-acre property adjacent to MadgTech, Inc., near exit 7 off Interstate 89, and construction work has already begun on the land.
“If (town officials) are making that kind of commitment, then I need to make an equal amount of commitment to the project.”
– Eric Miller, owner of planed retail gun store/shooting range
“I spent a lot of time analyzing all the potential (legal) outcomes and realized that there isn’t really a scenario where I can’t hopefully be able to build,” he said late last week. “I’ve looked at this from every angleand decided that this is worth making this investment… So I pulled the trigger.”
The recent court actions involved appeals from Norman Carlson, the founder and CEO of MadgeTech, Inc., the town’s largest high-tech employer, to halt Miller’s project. Carlson says his employees feel the business will pose a danger to their safety, and he’s threatened to move his 50-plus-workers plant out of town if the project is constructed next to the company land. (In recent weeks, Carlson has been unavailable for comment.)
Earlier this year, both the planning board and the zoning board of adjustment approved Miller’s building proposal. Now, town officials are opposing Carlson’s efforts to have the judge toss out those decisions.
In the Concord superior court last month, Carlson and a couple that rents out a small house on his property asked the court to legally halt Miller’s project. Attorneys argued that the couple was not properly notified by the town about the two land boards’ hearings, and that other legal requirements had not been met. Both Miller’s attorney and the town’s refuted the claims.
However the town officials did ask the judge to order that the ZBA reconvene its public hearing, although only to specifically consider the question of whether the shooting range/gun store facility could be considered to have a regional impact. If it does, some Hopkinton residents who have expressed concerns about the location of the facility, just three miles from Hopkinton Middle High School, as well as representatives of the Central New Hampshire Planning Commission would be allowed to address the zoning board.
The Hopkinton residents (and other people with ties to the area) say they’re concerned about noise from the gallery and the possibility that lead from firearms and ammunition could somehow find its way into the local water supply. Representatives of the planning commission raised concerns about traffic in the neighborhood. Those concerns were discussed at the planning board hearing, but the board members decided that Miller’s plans were sufficient.
On Friday, Miller said that he completed his purchase of the 2.7-acre lot adjacent the Davisville State Forest on Monday, July 17, and that he hired a company to begin preparing the land for construction later that week. He had signed a purchase-and-sales agreement with Richard M. George of Webster earlier this year after Webster outbid Carlson for the land, which was formerly part of the forest.
Miller said that he was especially motivated to move forward with his construction plans after receiving a recent email from Warner officials indicating that they intended to continue their vigorous defense of the two land boards’ rulings.
“So, I thought, if they’re making that kind of commitment, then I needed to make an equal amount of commitment to the project,” Miller said.
Miller said that he’s spent more than $10,000 on legal fees related to the dispute so far, and he expects to spend more in the future.
This story first appeared in the InterTown Record of Sutton, N.H., on Tuesday, Aug. 1, 2017