Warner’s legal costs jump due to shooting range dispute; town prepares for annual meeting

By Ray Carbone

WARNER – The town’s long-running legal dispute about a proposed indoor retail gun store/shooting range has created a major increase in its legal fees.

Last year town officials budgeted approximately $700 to cover the costs of all legal issues that could be related to its land use boards. However, James Bingham, the town’s administrator, said recently that the municipality spent $20,290 last year on court-related costs, most of it related to the firearms dispute.

In addition Bingham said that the board of selectmen is recommending that another $20,000 be earmarked for legal costs in 2018, which is almost $13,000 more than what the town typically projects for all its legal expenditures. “Because this may not be over,” he said, referring to the gun range issue.

The town administrator said residents should consider whether postponing the (fire station) plan for a year or more would likely result in a significant increase in costs.

About a year ago, Dragonfly Ranges of Sutton presented a plan to the town to construct a $1.4-million facility on Warner Road. The project initially won a variance from the zoning board of adjustment (ZBA) that would have allowed the project to move forward, and was then approved by the planning board. But Norman Carlson, the founder and CEO of MadgeTech, Inc., a high-tech firm located next to the proposed site, began a lengthy legal fight with the town over the boards’ actions. Carlson said his 60 employees had safety concerns about being next to the firearms facility, and that the boards had not properly notified several abutters about their hearings.

After months of meetings, as well as a court action filed by Carlson’s companies in Merrimack County Superior Court, the ZBA effectively killed Dragonfly‘s plan by denying the zoning variance earlier this month.

Bingham said that the increase in the land use legal costs is one of several issues that are impacting the proposed 2018 budget. Expected increases for the town’s highway department is also a factor. The department has been able to keep sand and salt costs down following a relatively mild winter last year, he said, but now those stockpiles need to be replenished so the sand/salt budget is projected to jump from approximately $13,000 to $26,000. The selectmen would also like to add $190,000 to a capital reserve fund that will eventually pay for needed repairs to Pumpkin Hill Road sometime in the next few years, Bingham explained.

The entire selectmen’s budget proposal totals $3,150,015, which represents an increase of $82,631 – or, about 2.7-percent – over the 2017 budget. (Actual final expenditures for 2017 were less than that, at $2,865,240.)

In addition to the budget, the selectmen are proposing several warrant articles. The most significant would okay a new fire station on Rte. 103, costing approximately $2,800,000. (Last year, the town purchased the Rte. 103 property that would be used.) Without offering any specific opinion on the project, Bingham said that residents should consider whether postponing the plan for a year or more would likely result in a significant increase in costs.

The budget committee began its official review of the selectmen’s budget and warrant articles recently. It held its official public hearing on Thursday, Feb. 1, at the town hall. Voters gather for the 2018 annual town meeting on Saturday, March 17, at 9 a.m. At last year’s town meeting, they approved changing the annual meeting from a weeknight to a Saturday morning.

This story first appeared in the InterTown Record newspaper of Sutton, New Hampshire, on January 30, 2018

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Gun firing range proposal shot down by Warner ZBA

(Zoning Board Chair Janice Loz, center-left, discusses a proposal to grant a variance that would allow a local business to construct an indoor gun range. – Photo: RC)

 

By Ray Carbone

WARNER – It was close at the end, but Warner’s Zoning Board of Adjustment (ZBA) voted 3-2 to deny a zoning variance application submitted by Dragonfly Ranges.

The variance would have allowed the Sutton-based company to build a $1.4-million modern indoor gun range and retail store on Warner Road.

At its town hall meeting last Wednesday, Jan. 10, the board ruled that the application failed to meet several criteria required under Warner’s zoning regulations. Among the most significant was that the project would not negatively impact the “health, morals and welfare” of the area and adjoining neighborhoods, and that the project was “essential or desirable to the public convenience and welfare.”

(Board member Sam) Bower pointed out that more than 80-percent of the public input that ZBA had received was against the proposed firing range.

After the meeting, Eric Miller of Dragonfly said that he would be talking with some of the project’s supporters soon about possibly developing the firearms facility as a private club rather than a retail facility. A private club, which is not open to the public, would face less stringent legal limitations.

Miler also has the option of appealing the ZBA’s decision, asking the group to reconsider its decision, before Feb. 10.

Dragonfly’s defeat is a victory for Norman Carlson, the founder and president of Madgetech, Inc., the high-tech firm that is located next to the 2.9–acre lot where Miller hoped to build. Carlson inadvertently created the lot when, according to state officials, he mistakenly okayed an easement for a timber cut on the property even though it was still part of the Davisville State Forest at the time. When state officials discovered the problem, they decided to cut the oddly shaped 2.9.-acre track out from the forest and sell it. Carlson tried to purchase it but lost out in a bid process to a Webster resident, who later sold it to Dragonfly.

After Dragonfly’s plans became public, Carlson funded a lengthy legal battle against the effort. He said that he would move his 60-employee plant out of Warner if the facility were built because his employees were nervous about being next to a shooting range.

Dragonfly first applied to the ZBA for its variance almost one year ago, in February 2017. The board initially approved the variance request but Carlson appealed the decision to Merrimack County Superior Court, claiming that the town had not properly notified several abutters about the proposed building plan. While the town’s planning board okayed the project, the court ruled against the ZBA, tossing it back to the town.

In the ensuing months, the ZBA has worked to make sure that anyone who had an interest in Miller’s proposal was notified and heard. As a result, the board heard from scores of area residents and received more than 100 written comments, including a letter from the Hopkinton school board saying that its educational community opposed the facility.

Throughout the process, Miller maintained that the Dragonfly range would be safe, with high-tech lead abatement and noise suppression systems, a trained staff and plenty of safety measures. He said that shooting ranges typically attract people who are serious gun owners and that the Warner building would primarily be an “educational facility.”

Before last week’s vote, ZBA member Sam Bower said that he “struggled with” seeing how the project could met the zoning regulations requirement that a business is “essential or desirable,” and beneficial to the “public convenience or welfare.”

Bower pointed out that more than 80-percent of the public input that ZBA had received was against the proposed firing range, which seemed to indicate that it wasn’t desirable.

Chairman Janice Loz said that the ZBA’s decision was not supposed to be a popularity contest, but Bower said the reactions should be considered. “How do you measure ‘desirability,’ except from public input,” he asked rhetorically.

Bower also noted that the Warner Fish & Game Club provides outdoor options for local firearms enthusiasts and that indoor shooting is available within 30 minutes in numerous directions from town.

ZBA member Beverly Howe said she was most concerned about the possibility of noise that the shooting range would produce. “A gun range brings a specific type of sound,” she told her fellow members. “A combustive, unpredictable type of sound.”

Miller had even admitted to the group that, despite his plans for a high-tech noise suppressant system, he could not predict how much noise would be audible at the edge of his property, she added.

Later, Bower said that the shooting range would likely have a negative impact on local property values.

Loz pointed out that Miller had disputed that idea in his testimony but Bower explained that a representative of the Brown Family Realty company in town confirmed his position.

In the end, Bower voted with Howe and board member Elizabeth Labbe to reject Dragonfly’s application, while Loz and Howard Kirchner stood in opposition.

This story first appeared in the InterTown Record weekly newspaper of Sutton, New Hampshire, on Tuesday, January 16, 2018.

 

 

Warner gun range case still unsettled

Above – Attorney Paul Alfano, representing Norman Carlson of Warner, testifies before the town’s Zoning Board of Adjustment  in the Christmas-themed Town Hall last week. – RC

By Ray Carbone

WARNER – For the third time this year, the town’s Zoning Board of Adjustment voted last week to continue its public hearing on a special exception that would allow a Sutton man to build a $1.4-million indoor gun firing range and retail store on Warner Road nearby exit 7 off I-89.

At its regular town hall monthly meeting Wednesday night, the board primarily heard from attorney Mark Puffer of Concord, who is representing Eric Miller and his company, Dragonfly Ranges of Sutton. The lawyer responded to comments made at the November meeting by Paul Alfano, the Concord lawyer who represents Norman Carlson. Carlson, who is the founder and president of Madgetech, a 60-employee high-tech firm that sits next to the 2.9-acre lot where the proposed firearms facility would be built, has said he may move his operations out of Warner if Dragonfly’s range is constructed adjacent to his plant.

Early in the meeting, Alfano reviewed Carlson’s objections to the gun range site. He said a town zoning regulation that would allow “recreational and other amusements” in the zone where Dragonfly wants to build wouldn’t apply to its plans. “If you look at a common sense reading (of those terms),” he said, “it does not include this.”

Alfano also said that the gun facility would not meet a requirement that it be “desirable” in the neighborhood, based on the large number of area residents who have voice opposition to the project. And there are still unanswered questions related to its possible impact on nearby property values, ambient noise, and environmental issues, the attorney added.

‘This is not a referendum on firearms, and it’s not a popularity contest. This is a zoning case.’

– Attorney Mark Puffer, representing Dragonfly Ranges

 

“If you vote against this, it doesn’t mean your anti-gun,” Alfano told the board. “It means the application didn’t meet the special exception criteria.”

But Puffer said that Alfano was being somewhat disingenuous about the gun-rights issue. “Remember at the (original) October hearing, the very first thing he said was that ‘Eric Miller did not talk about the elephant in the room, which was that guns kill people,” he recalled, classifying the statement as “incendiary.”

“This is not a referendum on firearms, and it’s not a popularity contest,” Puffer said. “This is a zoning case.”

He noted that proposed Walmart stores are frequently opposed by various members of a community, but the company is allowed to build because its stores meet the zoning requirements.

Puffer also argued that the firing range is allowed as a “recreational” special exception under the town’s zoning regulations. “It’s akin to an indoor tennis facility, a roller-skating rink or an ice skating facility,” he said.

The attorney then disputed Alfano’s claim that noise, pollution and property values issues had not be refuted, stating that Miller had responded to each in paperwork that submitted to the board. And he said that while Miller was at all public hearings, several experts who had filed reports in favor of Carlson’s objections were not. “None of them came here to be questioned,” Puffer told the board.

The ZBA will continue the gun range hearing at its next meeting on Wednesday, January 10 at 7 p.m. in the town hall.

This story first appeared in the InterTown Record of Sutton New Hampshire, on Tuesday, December 19, 2017. 

 

 

Warner gun proposal still under fire

(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.

 

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