(Above: The Warner Road site where Dragonfly Ranges wants to build. © Carbone Productions, LLC)
By Ray Carbone
WARNER – The latest shots have been fired in the ongoing community battle over a proposed 16-lane indoor shooting range and gun store on Warner Road near Rte. 103.
On Wednesday night, approximately 50 local residents from Warner and Hopkinton came to a public hearing before the Zoning Board of Adjustment. They offered either support or opposition to the project, which has been proposed by Eric Miller of Sutton under the name Dragonfly Ranges.
The board was unable to a final decision on the project because it still has to review more than 100 pages of public input letters and emails that have been sent from Hopkinton residents. (Hopkinton residents were invited to participate in the review process because the proposed site is close to Contoocook village and deem to be of regional impact; Warner town officials are not obligated to factor in the Hopkinton comments in their final decision.) The board will take up Dragonfly’s proposal at its next meeting on Dec. 13.
‘Guns are uniquely deadly items. You can’t get around that. They’re designed to kill.’
Paul Alfano, MadgeTech attorney
The most ardent opposition to the shooting range has come from Norman Carlson, the founder and CEO of MadgeTech, a high-tech company that’s located next to the proposed project’s site. Carlson has threatened to move his 60-employee plant out of Warner if the facility is approved by the town. His Warner Road Holdings, Inc. business entity has filed several legal challenges against the town’s planning and zoning boards in order to halt the $1.4-million proposal.
At Wednesday’s meeting, attorney Paul Alfano of Concord, who represents Carlson, started with a linguistic bang. “Guns are uniquely deadly items,” he said. “You can’t get around that. They’re designed to kill.”
The lawyer went on to suggest several reasons that the ZBA should deny Dragonfly Ranges’ request for a special exemption to build on the property near I-89’s exit 7. He said the 11,800 square-foot facility would not meet required setbacks to MadgeTech’s neighboring lot, that the sound of gunfire would be audible from Warner Road, that the operation’s environmental safeguards would not be adequate, and that residential property values in the neighborhood would be adversely impacted by the shooting range/gun store.
In addition, he said that recent renovations Dragonfly had made to its noise abatement program were still insufficient. He quoted from a report that an audio expert had done for his legal firm, which concluded that Dragonfly showed “a complete lack of understanding of acoustics.”
Alfano concluded his presentation by suggesting that the building a gun store/shooting range on the Warner Road land would disagree with the goals of the town’s master plan.
“It’s detrimental to the zoning district,” he said. “And it’s detrimental to the health and welfare of the public.”
Janice Loz, the board’s new chairman, followed up by asking Carlson if he owned a gun.
Some in the audience gasped and Alfano began to object to the question but the MadgeTech CEO said he didn’t own a gun but did not agree with Alfano’s statement “a gun’s only purpose is to kill.”
During the public input part of the meeting, several residents voiced their opposition to the facility.
“I don’t see how a gun range enhances the town. It’s not the reason that people move to the town of Warner,” said Pam August of Warner.
It was a sentiment echoed by several others.
Chuck Austin said he’s hesitant about the project because of what’s happening in Washington. “Congress has been unable to pass even the simplest of gun laws,” he said. “It doesn’t make sense to invite (guns) into our town… I don’t think it’s safe to have a gun range or shop in our family town.”
Clyde Carson, who serves on the town’s board of selectmen, said that Carlson’s threat to move MadgeTech out of Warner if the shooting facility is built next door should be taken seriously. “We have an abutter that is a high-tech company, that has one of the highest payrolls in town,” he noted. “They’re saying, this isn’t good for our business… What do we tell our existing businesses if we don’t take them into account?
“It’s not in the best interest of the town to approve this exception,” he told the ZBA.
But others disagreed, saying that some of their neighbors’ fears were unreasonable and that the facility would be a safe asset to the community.
“I speak against the ridiculous assertion that a gun’s sole purpose is killing,” said one man.
Another claimed that the so-called “explosive” nature of gunpowder that Alfano alluded to is a misnomer. “Ammunition does not propagate itself,” he explained. “The idea that it’s a big explosive hazard, that’s just not true.”
Andy Stone of Hopkinton echoed the thoughts of several others when he said that a place like Dragonfly Ranges, where shooters can learn about gun safety and practice their skills, would be beneficial for the area.
James Gafney of Warner questioned the assertion that the proposed facility would drive down local home values, saying that the studies Alfano had presented to the board reflected prices in commercially-zone areas where residential homes were built later, after a shooting range was already established.
“We live in a very rural town,” noted Warner resident Mary Watts. “When we first moved here, I was terrified (because) every one of my neighbors had guns. They would target shoot, and I was afraid a stray shot would hit one of my young children. I was terrified of guns.
“But I had a very good friend who took me to the Manchester firing range,” she added. “That is the most important thing that this brings to this community: it takes away the fear. It helps people like me live in a place like this.”
Afterwards, Dragonfly’s owner Eric Miller said that supporters of his project had come to the meeting with the goal of being heard by officials and other residents.
The ZBA will take up the Dragonfly application again at its next meeting in December.
This story first appeared in the InterTown Record weekly newspaper of Sutton, New Hampshire on Tuesday, November 14, 2017.