Warner tiny house project on hold as ZBA continues deliberations

Above: Joe Mendola of Warner, who wants to build a tiny house development in his hometown, already has a “tiny mansion” under construction on Poverty Plain Road.

By Ray Carbone

WARNER – A proposal to build the state’s first tiny house development on Schoodac Road has been set back for a least a few more weeks by the zoning board of adjustment (ZBA).

At a meeting in the town hall last week, the members decided to delay a final decision on a zoning variance that would allow Joe Mendola, a resident and realtor, to move forward with his plan to create a 13-unit tiny house park on 15 acres of property close to Interstate 89’s exit 8. The variance would permit Mendola to cluster the 13 lots into one area of the property, which he says will be both better for the environment and lower construction costs.

At the meeting, ZBA members expressed concerns, especially about the use of the term “tiny house.” Warner has no zoning regulations specifically for the unusual new mobile residences – nor does any other New Hampshire community – so Mendola wants his proposal to be considered under the town’s manufactured home parks ordinances.

“We understand that what you’re asking for is a manufactured housing park but the idea of a new tiny house is different from that,” said Sam Bower of the ZBA.

‘’We’re going to have these tiny houses and we’re satisfying a need for millennials.’’… That’s B.S. This is a trailer park, plain and simple.’

– Lucinda McQueen

Tiny houses are a relatively recent invention favored mostly by young people, especially millennials, who are either unable or unwilling to make a large down payment on a traditional house or to pay current high rents. The structures are typically 300-square-feet or smaller, which makes them very energy efficient; they’re built with conventional building materials on flatbed trailers that can easily be moved from place to place.

Many tiny houses are made by their owners and can cost as little as $10,000 to $25,000 but Mendola plans to have each of his 13 super-small structures built to specifications required by the federal Housing and Urban Development (HUD). At 320-square feet each, they would meet the town’s manufactured home park ordinance.

Throughout the planning process that began in February, town officials have been debating about Mendola’s claim his facility can be both a tiny house and manufactured home park.

“If it’s a structure built to HUD standards then, by definition, it’s a manufactured home,” he said at the recent ZBA meeting, explaining his rationale.

Chairman Janice Loz was cautious. “I understand that’s how you interpret it,” she said. “But I do believe that it is good for the board members to question and try to get to bottom of what a manufactured home is (for zoning purposes.)

“The whole sticking point is that manufactured housing parks are tightly regulated,” she added. “What you really get to is the intent of the ordinance. And I wonder if the intent was for tiny houses since there wasn’t such things when they (ordinances) were drafted.”

Mendola said that tiny houses could help the state with its ongoing problem of attracting and keeping younger people in New Hampshire, but not everyone accepts that.

“The whole idea of tiny houses is just a little coy,” said Lucinda McQueen, another resident. “’We’re going to have these tiny houses and we’re satisfying a need for millennials.’… That’s B.S. This is a trailer park, plain and simple.”

The ZBA will resume its deliberations at its next meeting on Tuesday, May 29, at 7 p.m. at the town hall. If it does approve Mendola’s variance request, he will still need to win approval of the planning board before breaking ground on the tiny house project.

This story first appeared in the InterTown Record weekly newspaper of Sutton, New Hampshire, on Tuesday, May 15, 2018. 

 

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Tiny House project proposed for Warner

by Ray Carbone

WARNER – When Joe Mendola, a local resident and realtor, meets with the zoning board of adjustment (ZBA) Wednesday night, he’s hoping to win a variance that could lead to the creation of the state’s first tiny house development in Warner.

Mendola wants to build the 13-pad tiny house project on 15 acres of land off Schoodac Road, near exit 8 off Interstate 89.

But that’s a challenge. No community in the state currently has zoning ordinances that specifically address tiny houses, he said. As a result, the local ZBA and planning boards have been wrestling with the development for months.

On a separate Poverty Plains Road lot, Joe Mendola is building a tiny house ‘mansion’ of 650-square-feet.

Mendola sees tiny houses as a way to keep and attract more young people to the Granite State. Recent college graduates with valuable skills often leave because they have significant student debt and can’t afford our high rents, he said. “I have (young) colleagues who do not live here because they’re millennials and they either think that New Hampshire is not cool enough or they’re not ready establish a residence.”

Younger people are attracted to tiny houses due to their low cost, their small carbon footprint and mobility, he said.

Tiny houses are a relatively recent development in the housing market but they’re gaining in popularity with several reality television programs, a booming social network and construction growing in places like Texas and the northwest. The structures are typically 300-square-feet or less, so their small space makes them very energy efficient. They’re usually built with conventional building materials on flatbed trailers that can be easily be moved from place to place.

While many tiny houses are made by their owners for as little as $10,000 to $25,000, there are companies that build them for people who cannot do that. Mendola wants to work with a company that would build tiny houses that conform to federal Housing and Urban Development (HUD) specifications at an estimated cost between $48,000 to $88,000.

(On a separate Poverty Plains Road lot, Mendola is building a “tiny house mansion” of 650-square-feet. While it will feature many of the same energy-saving aspects of tiny homes – no hall space, low heating/cooling costs, little storage, etc. – the structure is being built on a standard cement foundation.)

Warner’s planning officials first saw Mendola’s project in February. Since that time, both the planning and zoning boards have been trying to understand how it fits into Warner’s current zoning ordinances.

That’s not a surprise to Mendola, who is now eschewing the tiny house label and calling the project a “manufactured home park” for legal purposes. “I went from Warner, and I looked all the way to Portsmouth,” he laughed, recalling how he search to find a community with zoning regulations that might allow his groundbreaking development. “I found only three towns: Henniker, Goffstown and Warner – my hometown.”

A variance from the ZBA would allow the structures to be clustered together, which would make the development less expensive and more ecologically friendly, Mendola said. “It’s tough land (to build on),” he commented. “There’s wetlands, utility wires and 25-degree slopes. So I’m asking for a variance that would allow the town’s ‘open space’ or ‘cluster’ regulations to be applied.”

The realtor admitted that he’s not sure about his chances of winning a ZBA approval. And if he does, he will still need to get permission from the planning board.

If that doesn’t, he could appeal the decision, or look for another piece or property, either in Warner or one of the other two towns.

But he’s convinced that tiny homes could be a major economic benefit for the state by keeping younger people in New Hampshire.

“Here’s the brutal truth,” he commented. “When I moved here 25 years ago, I could buy a starter home. But there’s very little construction now. And people like me are retiring and scaling down,” which makes the first-time homeowner’s market even tighter. “We’re competitively moving these kids out of the starter home market,” he said. “We’ve got to keep these kids in the state,” he concluded.

This story first appeared in the InterTown Record, a weekly newspaper published in Sutton, New Hampshire, on Tuesday, May 8, 2018.

 

 

Warner firehouse wins overwhelming support

(Warner residents wanted to be comfortable for their first-ever Saturday town meeting.)

By Ray Carbone

WARNER – At one of the most well attended annual town meetings in many years, voters on Saturday gave hearty approval to a plan to build a new $2.7-million fire department stationhouse on Route 103. Because it was a bonding proposal, the plan needed to gain at least two-thirds of the 351 ballots cast. The town hall gathering far exceeded that with more than 83-percent supporting the project. The ballot tally was 293-58.

Town officials have been concerned about the current East Main Street facility for some years due to its small size and inadequacy for a modern department. The town purchased property for the new stationhouse in 2016.

Edward Ordway Jr. said that the tax impact would be too high and that the selectmen should have suggested putting money aside for the project in previous years.

Before the vote, Kimberly Edelmann, the selectman who has worked closely with the fire department on its building plan over the last year, joined with Mike Cutting, chairman of the town’s budget committee, and Ed Raymond, the fire chief, to review the project and its funding.

Raymond talked about the crowded space in the current facility and the possible health issues for firefighters. Edelmann noted that the town was able to purchase a great site on the corner of Split Rock Rd. and West Main Street that could be used. Both Edelmann and Cutting addressed the cost and bonding process.

But some residents still have reservations. Edward Ordway Jr., who lost out in a bid to win a seat on the select board last Tuesday, said that the tax impact would be too high and that the selectmen should have suggested putting money aside for the project in previous years. “This is an aging community,” he told the crowd. “I do support the station and I would support the bonding if it weren’t for the taxes that would hit us.”

Others agreed that the project was relatively expensive but said it was needed nevertheless. “What is your safety worth? That’s the question,” said Richard Senor.

Before the final vote was taken, the article was amended to insure that the interest rate on loans connected to the bond would not exceed 4 percent annually.

During the later budget discussion, one resident asked the town leaders what they intended to do with the current old firehouse after the new one is completed.

“I think it should be sold to a business, put back on the tax rolls,” suggested Edelmann.

Responding to some comments made earlier about growing the town’s tax base, Cutting said that the old structure could be turned over to the town’s economic development committee to see if it could find a suitable business buyer.

In other news, voters rejected a petition article idea to institute a new three-person procurement committee in a voice vote.

They also approved an annual operating budget of approximately $3 million. Cutting said the plan would likely result in a tax rate of $9.60 per thousand dollars of property value. “That’s what I think,” he said, before adding, “but don’t take it to the bank.”

This was the first time that the annual town meeting was held on a Saturday morning. The long tradition of holding it on a weeknight shortly after election day ended when the change was approved by voters at last year’s meeting.

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

 

 

 

At New Hampshire town meetings & polls, residents spring surprises

By Ray Carbone

Despite a snowy week, voters came out to the polls last Tuesday to pick leaders in their local elections. Later, some residents gathered at their annual town meetings to make other important decisions for 2018 and beyond.

NEW LONDON – Residents turned down a plan to buy land where new town buildings could be built in the future, but they had to wait an extra day to find out who won their election for town clerk.

The former proposal, supported by both the board of selectmen and the budget committee, suggested spending up to $500,000 to purchase property where future municipal structures could be constructed; no particular parcel was identified in the warrant article.

The relatively strong showing of Aaron Warkentien to one of two vacant seats on the board of selectman probably surprised some New London residents.

The latter involved incumbent town clerk Linda Nicklos and her challenger, William F. Kidder III. At the polls, the pair tied with 270 votes each, so they had to meet the next day for an official coin toss to decide the winner. Nicklos won, but Kidder has asked for a recount of the ballots, which town officials scheduled for Tuesday (March 22). (The recount affirmed Nicklos’s victor, 274-270.)

In other action, town meeting voters rejected the idea of abandoning their quarterly property tax bills in favor of the more common semi-annual schedule, but they pledged to make all municipal facilities 100-percent dependent on renewable sources for electricity by 2030, and 100-percent dependent for heating and transportation fuel by 2050.

SUNAPEE – The relatively strong showing of Aaron Warkentien to one of two vacant seats on the board of selectman probably surprised some residents. Warkentien’s name was not on the printed ballot, but the write-in candidate came in with 314 votes, close behind incumbent John Augustine’s 325. Joshua Trow came in first with 500 votes.

Sunapee is an SB2 town, so all town meeting action occurred at the polls last Tuesday.

Voters also turned down several spending ideas including ones to buy voting booths, a highway department pick-up truck, and a fast-response utility-forestry truck for the fire department.

The question of whether to allow Keno gambling (lost in Newbury) in a tie vote, 110-110.

Residents made another change in the fire department, voting to have the selectmen appoint three fire wards to oversee its organizational operations.

A nonbinding article that won approval suggests that town workers and taxpayers share in savings realized from a new employee health insurance program. The Concerned Taxpayers of Sunapee, which originally presented the petition article, went to court recently to alter a wording change instituted at the deliberative town meeting last month, but the judge refused the motion.

In school district action, voters okayed a plan that will require future negotiations between with the district’s unions and the school board be held in public.

NEWBURY – For the third time in recent years, voters turned thumbs down on a proposal to build a new public safety building. The $3.6-million plan, which would have constructed a 9,000-square-foot building for the Newbury Fire & Rescue Department on Route 103, lost out in a tight race. Since a bond was required, the article needed support from at least two-thirds of the 253 town meeting voters, which would have been 168, but the final tally was 152-101.

Things were similarly tight in other town elections.

Less than a dozen votes separated the winner of a seat on the board of selectman, Russell Smith, from his opponent Joanne Lord, 113-103, and less than two dozen was the difference in a race for a cemetery trustee post, with Knowlton “None” Reynders besting William Weiler, 113-91.

Even tighter was a question of whether to allow Keno gambling in Newbury. The proposal lost in a tie vote, 110-110.

SUTTON – Unlike similar proposals in other area towns, a plan to build an addition for the town’s fire department won strong approval at last week’s annual town meeting, 104-20.

At the polls, incumbent town clerk/tax collector Linda Ford lost out to longtime resident Carol Merullo, 127-154. Ford had served in the post for most of the last decade.

Voters okayed an annual budget of $$2.2-million but they rejected the idea of establishing some new capital reserve funds and tabled a proposal to buy a new software package for the town clerk/tax collector’s office.

ANDOVER – One of the biggest surprises of this year’s town meeting season may have been the election of write-in candidate Charles Keyser. He won a seat on the board of selectmen with 168 votes, beating out three candidates listed on the ballot.

In other action, voters approved transferring the deed of the East Andover Fire Station to the Andover Fire Department and accepted the title of the town office building. But they rejected the idea of spending $100,000 to buy two lots on Overlook Avenue, as well as putting aside $10,000 for a contingency fund.

This story first appeared in the InterTown Record weekly newspaper published in Sutton, New Hampshire, on Tuesday, March 22. (The print version contained an error, which is corrected here.)

 

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. 

 

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.

 

Gun range project could land in Concord or another NH town

By Ray Carbone

SUTTON – Since his efforts to build a retail gun store/indoor shooting range in Warner were defeated last month, resident Eric Miller says he’s heard from numerous local communities that are anxious to see if his new business can be established in their towns.

Speaking by phone from his home here late last week, the owner of Dragonfly Ranges said that he’s seriously considering several potential locations, including two in Concord. “There are two (spaces there), and one is large enough for indoor skeet/trap shooting,” Miller explained. “So, I’m seriously considering doing two ranges. One for skeet/trap shooting and the other the more traditional range,” like the was proposed in Warner, he explained.

The two locations are “within four or five miles of each other,” Miller noted.

‘What I’m looking at right now is speed-to-market. It took a year for this to play out in Warner and I’m not spending another six months (delayed).’

  • Eric Miller, owner of Dragonfly Ranges

 

Miller said he’s decided against appealing the Warner zoning board of adjustment’s recent decision to deny a variance that would have allowed his $1.4-million firearms facility to be constructed on Warner Road, despite the urgings of his attorney. “My lawyer has said in no uncertain terms that the zoning board violated state law (by rejecting the variance request), and he has written me a very detailed analysis, even though I’ve told him I’m not looking to appeal this,” the business owner said.

“What it comes down to, quite simply, is that if I appeal then the judge would likely send (the case) back to the another zoning hearing,” Miller said. “And since its their (members) intend to violate state law, the only thing I could expect is that they would try to conceal their preconceived opinions and hide their real biases better than they did this go-around… It’s not a good investment of time.”

“What I’m looking at right now is speed-to-market,” he said. “It took a year for this to play out in Warner and I’m not spending another six months (delayed).”

Planning officials in Concord have assured Miller that there are numerous locations around the city – including some on Main Street – where he would have no problem opening up his retail gun store/shooting range operations. “We’d need no more than a building permit,” he said.

In Warner, Miller was unable to convince the five-member ZBA that his proposal was allowable under the town’s legal definition of a “permitted use” for a zoning variance. During the last year, a significant number of area residents said that they did not feel the facility was a good addition to the community because of concerns about noise, pollution and safety. Last month, the ZBA voted 3-2 to turn aside Dragonfly’s variance request.

Miller said that since the group’s decision, he’s received invitations from officials or private citizens in Hillsboro, Newport, Grantham, Springfield and Hopkinton, as well as City of Concord and his Sutton hometown, offering to discuss the possibility of locating his facility in their towns. Some involved procuring land and constructing a new building, something he’s not interested in at this time. Miller wants to rent space in an industrial-style building to speed his opening, he explained.

The business owner said he hasn’t yet developed any plans for the 2.9-acre Warner property he bought last year in hopes of constructing his facility.

“So far I’ve had three offers (to buy it),” he said. “One of them, of course, being from Norm (Carlson).”

Carlson is the founder and president of MadgeTech, Inc., the high-tech firm located adjacent to Miller’s property. He led the legal fight to defeat the firearms facility proposal, so the Miller admitted to having some reservations about his offer. “I’m not the emotional type but, it (selling to Carlson) certainly wouldn’t be my first choice.”

This story first appeared in the InterTown Record newspaper of Sutton, New Hampshire, on Tuesday, February 6, 2018.

 

Warner high-tech firm buys two smaller Newport companies

By Ray Carbone

WARNER – The local company that’s been embroiled in efforts to stop the construction of an indoor shooting range in town is expanding its business by purchasing two Newport companies

MadgeTech, Inc., an industry-leading manufacturer of high-tech data loggers, has bought Matrix Air/Pollution Research and New England Solar Concepts, both located on Sunapee Street. The deal was announced in a recent press release issued by MadgeTech earlier this month.

The new, expanded business wants the deal to allow it to manufacture high-quality products in growing fields including HVAC and alternative energy.

 

Matrix has been manufacturing a variety of air filtration and purification systems for businesses and homes since 1983, according to the company website. “For decades, New England Solar Concepts has been helping home and business owners,” according to the press release, “(by) specializing in the installation of photovoltaic electric and thermal solar panels.”

Financial details of the purchase were not disclosed to the public.

Norman Carlson, the founder and president of MadgeTech, said that his company has been negotiating with the owners of the Newport firms for months. “The recent acquisition was the perfect opportunity to support local businesses while complementing our commitment to providing the necessary resources needed to ensure safety and quality across influential industries worldwide,” he commented.

The new, expanded business wants the deal to allow it to grow and manufacture high-quality products in growing fields including HVAC, alternative energy, food processing and life sciences, according to the press release.

Carlson started MadgeTech more than 20 years ago. Today, the company employs about 60 people at its plant and its data loggers are used around the world for security and safety.

Carlson opposed a project proposed by Dragonfly Ranges to build a 16-lane firing range and gun retail store next to his plant’s Warner Road facility. The Warner business owner threatened to move MadgeTech out of town if the firearms facility was built, because his employees had safety concerns about its proximity. But the zoning board of adjustment rejected Dragonfly’s request for a zoning variance last week, effectively killing the proposal.

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

 

 

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