Warner budget committee member wants new purchase planning group for town

By Ray Carbone

WARNER – When voters gather for this year’s annual town meeting next month, they’ll be asked to consider a proposal to establish a new Procurement Committee that would evaluate all proposed town expenditures greater than $25,000.

The board of selectmen has decided not to recommend the idea to voters, but Alfred Hanson, who started the petition warrant article, said the new three-member group could assist the selectmen.

‘I’d just like to see some other minds get involved a little bit (in a way) that won’t cost us any money and maybe open up horizons for us in a whole different manner.’

-Alfred Hanson

 

“I’ve lived in this town all my life and I’ve seen the changes, especially in the last five or six years,” he explained. “And this is one of the things I think the town could really gain from… I’ve put a year’s worth of thought into this.”

The new committee would independently review all major proposed town costs looking at bids and any projected financial impact to the town, the petition state. The group would then submit a report with its findings and recommendations to the selectmen at a public meeting.

Hanson, who has served on the budget committee for the last nine years, said the goal of the committee would be to provide the town leaders with additional data.

“I think you need as much information as you can possibly get,” he said. “I know that’s the way I run my business. The better you feel about what is taking place, or what’s going to take place, the better off you are. So, what better way than this (idea)?”

Hanson said he’s not interesting in starting a group that will start “micromanaging” town leaders. “I’m not saying the town is making the wrong decisions here and there,” he explained. “I think the board of selectmen and the others, they do their job. I’d just like to see some other minds get involved a little bit (in a way) that won’t cost us any money and maybe open up horizons for us in a whole different manner.

“What I don’t want to see with the government is it growing,” he noted. “We start seeing departments hiring an assistant this or that… Maybe we don’t have to pay for that information. Maybe we can find citizens to study this stuff.”

“I believe that there are some savings being missed,” he added.

At a recent meeting, the selectmen voted unanimously not to recommend Hanson’s article to voters. Jim Bingham, the town administrator, said the three-member board had concerns about how a procurement committee would work and whether it would add a step in the town’s processes that would slow things down, he said.

“And (the members) said that they already have several avenues for public input,” Bingham noted. “For instance, before the board itself (at its regular meetings) or, if there’s any proposed withdrawal from a highway or road construction capital reserve fund, that needs to be preceded by a public input meeting.”

The town meeting will take place is scheduled to take palce on Saturday, March 17, beginning at 9 a.m., in the town hall.

This story first appeared in the InterTown Record weekly newspaper of Sutton, New Hampshire, on Tuesday, February 20, 2018. 

 

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Warner budgeters sharpen pencils to reduce fire station bond costs

By Ray Carbone

WARNER – Town leaders concerned that voters might reject a proposed new fire station because of its costs are making last-minute budget adjustments to lower the price of the bonding project.

Last Tuesday, Alfred Hanson, a member of the budget committee, suggested at his group’s annual public hearing on the proposed 2018 town budget that the $2.8-million price tag could be too high for some residents. He concurred with town officials that the structure is needed but said that town leaders should find a way to lower the bottom line about $300,000, to $2.5-million.

The idea (involves) cutting some department budgets and warrant articles that would earmark money to go into capital reserve funds.

The idea spurred a flurry of ideas and the budget group voted to support Hanson’s idea, reported Kimberly Edelmann, a member of the select board. Before the meeting adjourned, the selectmen decided to schedule an additional meeting of their own for the following Friday, she noted.

Late Friday afternoon, Hanson gathered with the selectmen, some other budget committee members, a few other residents and Jim Bingham, the town’s administrator, at the town hall to address the issue.

Hanson outlined the basics of his idea, which involved cutting some department budgets and warrant articles that would earmark money to go into capital reserve funds. He suggested that a proposal to add $190,000 to a capital reserve fund for future roadwork could be trimmed by $50,000. “I’ve talked to Tim (Allen, the town’s public works director) and he said he’s not going to start that work (on Pumpkin Hill Road) until 2019, and that’s a full year away,” Hanson said.

Selectman Clyde Carson said that he hoped that the fire station bond could be funded without adding to residents’ property tax bills. He suggested that the selectmen could trim the annual operating budget and still keep its cost increase to 2-percent or lower.

Carson noted that the proposed budget included about $20,000 to deal with possible legal fees associated with the long-running gun range proposal; since that issue now appears to be resolved, that line item could be reduced to its more typical annual $1,000 amount. The selectmen’s annual legal expenditure budget could also be reduced, he added.

Brown said that the addition of the town’s new solar energy panels at the transfer station was projected to produce a savings of about $1,700, which could also be available for the fire station project.

With Bingham’s help, the selectmen decided that by using money in the current fire station capital reserve fund, as well as some in the town’s unassigned fund balance, the bond could be set at $2.5-million. They approved the proposed changes to the annual budget, which reduced its bottom line from $3,153,115 to $3,131,033.

The budget committee scheduled its final meeting in advance of the annual town meeting for Monday, Feb. 12, with the selectmen slated to meet the following night, Tuesday, Feb. 13, 6 p.m. at town hall. The annual town meeting is set for Saturday, March 17, at 9 a.m., at the town hall.

A final public hearing on the fire station bond is scheduled for Thursday, Feb. 22, at 7 p.m., Brown reported. She noted that if town meeting voters approve the project, construction could begin as early as April 1, with a tentative completion date of December 1.

This story first appeared in the InterTown Record weekly newspaper of Sutton, New Hampshire, on Tuesday, February 13, 2018.

 

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

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 celebrates library renovations, solar array

By Ray Carbone

WARNER – Town officials and residents gathered twice on Saturday to mark two separate advancements in their community.

In the morning, about 30 people gathered at the new municipal solar array adjacent to the town dump to formerly mark the instillation of the facility.

In the afternoon, residents streamed in and out of the Pillsbury Free Library to see and celebrate the completion of that building’s recent renovations.

The library has been a source of community pride ever since it first opened in 1908, according to Michael Simon, chairman of its board of trustees.

‘We’ve very fortunate because more than 100 years ago, the Pillsbury family donated the land and the building (for the Pillsbury Free Library).’ 

– Michael Simon, chairman of board of trustees.- 

 

“We’ve very fortunate because more than 100 years ago, the Pillsbury family donated the land and the building,” he said. “And Mr. Pillsbury made an agreement with the town, that the town would provide a certain amount of money – one-tenth of one-percent of the town’s assessed value – to the library.”

So while other town libraries have to go back to the voters (or town leadership boards) annually for funding, the Warner facility is guaranteed a certain amount of money for its operations, Simon said.

Several years ago, however, the library board did go to the annual town meeting to request a $25,000 allocation. That money was used to take advantage of a state Land and Community Heritage Investment Program (LCHIP) matching grant totaling $50,000 to pay for much needed renovations to the building. (Town officials provided ‘in-kind’ labor equaling the other.)

Those funds – as well as money created by some additional fundraising – paid for the majority of the changes that were celebrated last weekend.

A major improvement Simon touted was the elimination of a lowered ceiling that as probably installed during the energy crises of the 1970s. It may have lowered fuel costs but it also blocked a section of the historic building’s original ceiling as well as portions of some stain glass windows.

Another significant improvement was brick and masonry repair/renovation done on the exterior. Graham Pendlebury of New Boston worked with Tim Allen, the town’s director of public works, to accomplish much of this work. The project included finding and fixing an area underneath the front stairs that was allowing rain water to leak into the Frank Maria meeting room.

Earlier in the day, Clyde Carson, a selectman and longtime member of the selectmen’s energy committee, thanked several community members for helping to establish the municipal solar array.

At an informal gathering in the DPW garage, Carlson mentioned the contributions of past and present committee members as well as several former selectmen, including Allan N. Brown. He also thanked some residents who manned a phone bank, reminding citizens to come to the annual town meeting in March, where voters approved the $338,530 project.

“Thirty years ago at town meeting, we passed an ordinance for mandatory recycling,” noted Neil Nevins, a longtime advocate of the town’s clean energy initiatives. “And now, thanks to that ordinance we have a wonderful recycling plant nearby.” The recycling effort also paved the way for more clean energy projects, like the new municipal solar array, he added.

The facility will provide power for 14 town buildings and properties, and continue the town’s long-standing involvement in clean energy, Nevins noted.

“I’m so proud to be associated with the town of Warner,” said George Horrocks of Harmony Energy Works, the company that worked with Tim Allen, director of the DPW, on the construction. “Of all the municipalities we’ve had the opportunity to work with over the years, this is the place where a lot of people cared, not just a few… Here, we saw people cared.”

After the discussion, State Sen. Dan Feltes read an official senate resolution congratulating the community on the solar array, and then Carlson led the group outside to the facility. Once in front of the solar panels, several community leaders and others involved in the project participated in an informal ribbon-cutting ceremony.

Then, it was back to the DPW garage for cider and doughnuts, as well as more friendly conversation with neighbors.

This story first appeared in the InterTown Record weekly newspapers of Sutton, New Hampshire, on November 21, 2017.

 

State wants court to dismiss Lake Sunapee access case

By Ray Carbone

NEWBURY – State officials want the Sullivan County Superior Court to dismiss a suit that would bar the NH Department of Environmental Services (DES) from moving forward with a plan to abandon a long-planned public boat launch site on Lake Sunapee.

In papers filed in the court in August, several people and nonprofit organizations with recreational interest related to the lake asked the court to have the DES ignore a proposal from Gov. Chris Sununu to ditch the state-owned Wild Goose property on the southeastern shore in favor of a different location. The governor says that the planned site has “met with significant public opposition, including extensive litigation involving multiple appeals to the New Hampshire Supreme Court” and, therefore, “it is necessary to assemble a variety of perspectives” on selecting a new site.

In Sept., Gov. Sununu signed an executive order establishing the Lake Sunapee Public Access Development Commission to find ‘alternative opportunities for expansion of boat access.’ 

 

The group includes the New Hampshire Bass Federation, the Sullivan County Sportsmen and the Mountain View Gun club, as well as Gary Clark of Merrimack (author of the “Clark’s New Hampshire Fishing Guide,” now in its fifth edition) and longtime fisherman Richard Smith of Hancock.

They claim that the DES was wrong to go along with Sununu’s proposal by withholding an extension of the Wild Goose’s permit for construction of a docking facility. According to their action, the DES’s own regulations demands that it approved the extension, despite a vote by the governor and the executive council not to approve it. “(Sununu’s) action and position is moot since none of the DES statutes allow for, let alone require, the governor and (executive) council approval,” it reads.

But in the court action filed on Oct. 17, the NH attorney general’s office argues that the group’s request that the DES okay the extension is on shaky legal ground in several ways.

For example, the group claims that withholding the approval would means that the boat launch will be built and, as a result, the state will meet its legal obligation to provide public access to all of the state’s waterways. But the group’s request for access that is “sufficient” is “subjective and conclusory, with no facts to support a finding that a fundamental problem regarding access to Lake Sunapee currently exists or will continue to exists.”

In addition, the group’s legal action “assumes that the issuance of the permit equates to construction of the (docking) project,” the AG’s office argues. There would still be costs related to the docking construction and the state’s budget has no money for the work at this time, it notes.

The state’s dismissal request also claims that the group members don’t illustrate any specific damage that is done to them by the denial of the permit extension, especially since they would be allowed to participate in future discussions about building a launch site at another location on the lake.

In September, Sununu signed an executive order establishing the Lake Sunapee Public Access Development Commission to research and evaluate “alternative opportunities for expansion of boat access at Lakes Sunapee.” The commission will also consider other potential uses for the three-acre Wild Goose site, which the state purchased for a possible boat ramp in 1990. A report is scheduled to be issue in March 1, 2018.

This story first appeared in the InterTown Record weekly newspaper of Sutton, New Hampshire, on Tuesday, November 7, 2017.

(Image from GoodFreePhotos.com)

 

 

Sunapee man cleared of all charges in election fraud case

By Ray Carbone

NEWPORT – A Newport district court judge has issued a sharp legal rebuke to law enforcement agencies that were involved in a criminal case against a Sunapee man charged with election fraud.

In a decision handed down on Oct. 27, Judge Gregory E. Michael dismissed all charges against Joseph Furlong, 41, of Sunapee, stating that the state “failed to properly investigate the facts” related to the alleged crime.

“(The state) wishes the court to endorse its failure,” Michael wrote. “This court will not do so.”

Michael issued his ruling after speaking with Furlong’s attorney, James Rosenberg, and James Vera of the attorney general’s office at a public hearing earlier in October. The hearing was held following the attorney general’s official request to have Michael reconsider his original decision to dismiss all charges against Furlong.

In his Oct. 26 decision, Michael said that the state had made a crucial error when it filed its original charges in March 2016, then took too long to fix it.

The original investigation, conducted by Sunapee Police Chief David Cahill, concluded that there was “probable cause” to believe that Furlong altered the email of another Sunapee resident, and then sent it out to others in the community in an attempt to tilt a 2016 school board election in favor of his wife. As part of the case, authorities also charged that Furlong had invented a “straw man” named Adam Gaw to blame for his illegal activities.

(Adam) Gaw is still scheduled to go on trial Nov. 14 in Newport… He’s filed a plea of not guilty, but has also confessed several times…

 

By the time Furlong’s trial came around in July, however, Adam Gaw had come forward and confessed to doctoring the email, apparently clearing the local man. The state withdrew its original charges against Furlong and filed new ones, charging that the local man had worked in concert with Gaw to plan and distribute the altered email.

Just days before the trail was to begin, Judge Michael dismissed all charges, saying that the new charges were filed too late to give Furlong’s attorney sufficient time to prepare a proper defense.

At the October hearing, Vera argued that the state’s new charges dealt with Furlong’s alleged criminal behavior and that it was no different if he’d acted alone or with Gaw.

But the judge disagreed. He said the new charges shifted the primary blame from Furlong to Gaw and the Sunapee man wasn’t properly prepared for the trail – and the new charges were filed too late, after the statute of limitations had run out.

“This court believes the charges should inform (Furlong) of his alleged misconduct prior to trial, not AT the trail,” Michael’s ruling read. “When preparing the initial (criminal) complaints, the State did not believe Adam Gaw existed and based its allegation using that ‘fact’ as a predicate for the original complaint.

“The original complaint also contained an allegation that (Furlong) ‘knowing gave false information’ to a law enforcement office,” the judge added, when the local man named Gaw as the person who may have doctored the email.

Gaw is an independent construction contractor of modest means who lives in Manchester. Furlong has said that Gaw may have been among of group of contractors who were working in the Sunapee man’s home when the email message was sent out but he’s unsure.

Both Furlong and Gaw were originally arrested and charged in March 2017 but, in July the attorney general’s office set the original charges set aside and instituted the new ones, including two counts of illegally altering an email with the aim of influencing the results of an election (Class A misdemeanor) and one count of forgery (a Class B misdemeanor).

Gaw is still scheduled to go on trial on Nov. 14 in Newport District Court. He’s filed an official plea of not guilty with the court, but has also confessed several times that he’s doctored the email.

At an earlier hearing on his case, Lauren Breda, a public defender representing Gaw, indicated that if the charges against Furlong are dismissed, her client could ask the court to dismiss his charges based on the same legal issues.

This story first appeared in the InterTown Record weekly newspaper of Sutton, New Hampshire on November 7, 2017.

 

Judge to decide if New Hampshire man will again face election fraud charges

By Ray Carbone

NEWPORT – The question of whether a Sunapee man will again face criminal charges related to an election fraud case in his town will be determined by how a Newport District Court judge legally interprets his conduct during the incident.

“It’s an interesting case because we’re confronted with what constitutes conduct (according to the law),” commented Judge Gregory E. Michael at a hearing in his court last week.

Joseph Furlong was originally charged with illegally altering an email of another resident, and then sending it out to others, in an attempt to tilt a March 2016 school board election in his wife’s favor. Shortly before Furlong was scheduled to go on trial earlier this year, authorities withdraw the original charges and filed new ones, including forgery. As a result, Judge Michael dismissed all criminal charges, agreeing with Furlong’s attorney that the new ones were different enough from the first that there was not enough time to develop a proper defense.

At last week’s hearing, Judge Michael agreed to reconsider his decision based on a formal request from the New Hampshire attorney general’s office.

(Furlong’s attorney) said that authorities could have done a more thorough investigation initially and that part of the reason for a statute of limitation is to discourage insufficient police work.

James Vera, an associate attorney general, argued that changing the specific criminal charges against Furlong didn’t alter the conduct that implicated him in the criminal behavior. “The state has added no facts that are different (in the new charges),” Vera told the judge. “The arguments are the same and the facts are the same.”

James Rosenberg, Furlong’s attorney, said that since the charges were altered, his defense had to be altered, and that the judge was right in his initial decision to dismiss them because the statute of limitations had run out.

“This is not the same conduct,” Rosenberg said, noting that the original charges did not include information about an alleged accomplice as the later ones did. “You can’t escape the way the state set forth the charges. The state declared, you’re acting alone.”

“Somebody hit the button (to send the email),” Judge Michael commented, adding that whether Furlong actually pushed the “send” button or otherwise played a prominent role in the altered email incident might not be especially significant. “He may have encouraged it or otherwise set in motion,” the judge said, reviewing the state’s argument.

Rosenberg said the original charges indicated that Furlong had “invented” the alleged accomplice as a way to dodge responsibility. He said that authorities could have done a more thorough investigation initially and that part of the reason for a statute of limitation is to discourage insufficient police work.

The central issue is how the court interprets Furlong’s specific conduct, the judge said. If it is basically the same as what’s outlined in the original charges, then the Sunapee man did have enough time to mount a defense and the charges will be reinstated. If not, the court’s dismissal of all charges will stand.

“I’m going to think about this,” Michael added at the hearing’s conclusion. “I’m going to try to be fair, knowing that one side won’t be happy (with my decision).”

The judge said he would issue his ruling as soon as possible.

This story first appeared in the InterTown Record weekly newspaper in Sutton, N.H. on Tuesday, Oct. 24, 2017.

 

Adjoining towns, regional planning commission, will be heard about proposed gun facility

By Ray Carbone

WARNER – The zoning board of adjustment has decided to invite residents and officials of Hopkinton and Webster, as well as representatives of the Central New Hampshire Regional Planning Commission, to its next public meeting so they can offer input into a proposed $1.4-million, 11,800 square-foot shooting range and retail gun store on Warner Road.

The ZBA approved the idea at its town hall meeting last Wednesday, October 11, after the members began their second review of a zoning variance request from Eric Miller, the Sutton resident who wants to build the facility. The request for the allowable variance was originally approved back by the ZBA in March but a court ruled in July that the board erred when it did not notify several abutters about its original hearing, nor did it consider whether the project could be considered to have “regional impact.” (The latter designation obligates town boards to notify neighboring communities and the planning commission about a proposed project and public hearings about it.)

‘Twenty years ago there was a shooting range right across from the high school and nobody said anything about it.’

– Howard Kirchner,  ZBA member 

The gun store/shooting range proposal has been controversial ever since Miller announced his intentions nearly 10 months ago. Some area residents like the idea, saying there are many gun enthusiasts in the region and the facility will give them a safe place to learn how to improve their skills. Opponents say that the location, roughly three miles from Hopkinton Middle High School, is a poor choice, and that noise and environmental issues could make the operation problematic for the neighborhood.

Most of the legal opposition has come from Norman Carlson, who is founder and CEO of the town’s largest high-tech employer, MadgeTech, Inc.. He has threatened to move his 60-employee plant, adjacent to the Miller’s land, out of town if the project is completed and his Carlson’s business entities have legally challenged almost every aspect of the project, including approvals Miller has won from the ZBA and the planning board. State officials say that Carlson missed out an opportunity to purchase the property, which is adjacent to his plant, during a public bid earlier in the year, and that he inadvertently created the 2.9-acre lot when he mistakenly okayed a tree clearance on the electric company for the land when it was still part of the Davisville State Forest.

At last week’s hearing, Rick Davies, chairman of the ZBA, asked the board’s voting members the question they did not consider at their original hearing in March: Does the proposed facility have a “regional impact?”

Barbara Marty said that it was probably a good idea to let the other communities comment on the project. “I think, being good neighbors, we owe them that,” she said.

“I’m torn,” countered member Howard Kirchner. While he understood people’s concerns, he said that “20 years ago there was a shooting range right across from the high school and nobody said anything about it. This is much safer and much farther away than that.”

Davies pointed out that the question before the board was not on the overall merits of the project but simply whether it could be seen to have regional impact, and therefore trigger invitations to the neighboring towns and the planning commission.

After a brief discussion, the members voted unanimously to support the idea. (The two towns and the commission will have no legal authority at the upcoming meeting to approve or disapprove Warner’s planning decisions.)

The members then adjourned the public hearing with the intention of reconvening it at its monthly meeting on Wednesday, November 8, at 7 pm in the town hall. The ZBA will also hold a site review of the Warner Road property this Thursday (Oct. 19) at 5:30 p.m. but no pubic input will be taken at that time.

This story first appeared in the InterTown Record of Sutton, New Hampshire, on Tuesday, October 17, 2017.

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