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.