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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Warner selectboard hears about beer at annual fall festival, and land use issues related to shooting range plan

By Ray Carbone

WARNER – At a busy meeting of the board of selectmen last week, the town leaders learned about plans to add a beer tent to the Warner Fall Foliage Festival next month and discussed how the recent resignation of the land use secretary could impact legal proceedings regarding the proposed gun store/shooting range.

At the meeting held Monday, August 29, in the town hall, Ray Martin, president of the WFFF’s board of directors, told the three-member town board that the festival has entered into an agreement with SweetFire BBQ of Claremont to operate a beer tent at the 70th annual festival, which runs Friday, Oct. 6 to Sunday, Oct. 8. (The beer tent will not be in operation on Friday, the first night of the downtown event.)

The new vendor will be located on the parking lot behind the New Hampshire Telephone Museum off Depot Street and across from the Pillsbury Free Library. SweetFire will also serve barbecued food, Martin said. “The vendor provides all ID checking (and) there’s a limit of two beers per person,” he noted.

The WFFF board has researched the company and is satisfied that it will manage the beer tent responsibly, the president said. It has its own insurance, which will be backed up by both the telephone museum’s and the festival’s.

The (land use resignation) is especially sensitive at this time because the town is locked in a legal dispute with Norman Carlson, the founder and CEO of MadgeTech, Inc., the town’s largest high-tech employer (regarding the shooting range plan).

 

SweetFire has done “a lot of” similar events in the area, Martin explained, adding that the company has been at the last two Hopkinton State Fairs and at several public events in Claremont.

Because the state liquor commission issues the company’s license, the selectmen did not need to take any action, Martin concluded. He simply wanted them to have giving official notification.

“We’re just looking at this as a rental space,” he told the selectmen. “It could be another $1,300 or $1,400 profit for the Warner Fall Foliage Festival.”

Later in the meeting, the selectmen discussed the recent resignation of Lois Lord, who has served as the town’s land use secretary for the last few years. The position is especially sensitive at this time because the town is locked in a legal dispute with Norman Carlson, the founder and CEO of MadgeTech, Inc., the town’s largest high-tech employer. Carlson’s business operations have recently won a court decision overturning the zoning board of adjustment’s approval of a plan to build a $1.4-million, 11,800 square-foot high-tech shooting range and retail gun facility on land adjacent to his MadgeTech plant on Warner Road. (The ZBA is scheduled to reconsider the application from Eric Miller of Sutton next Wednesday, Sept. 13.)

Town Manager Jim Bingham told the selectmen that the land use secretary’s job has seen some changes recently and he suggested that the board may want to review aspects of the position before hiring someone to take Lord’s place. “My suggestion is that we hire someone on an interim basis,” Bingham said.

Both Rick Davis, chairman of the ZBA, and Ben Frost, chairman of the planning board, told the that their boards do need help in the immediate future – “The gnarlier issues are with the zoning board,” said Frost – but they did not opposed the town administrator’s suggestion.

The selectmen suggested that the town manager begin looking to other communities in the area to find a qualified person to assume the duties on an interim basis.

“I’m going to begin working on that vigorously tomorrow,” Bingham said.

This story first appeared in the InterTown Record of Sutton, New Hampshire, on Tuesday, September 5, 2017.

Unusual agreement seals Odd Fellows building sale to local contractor

By Ray Carbone

WARNER – It took some creativity, but the town finally sold its historic Odd Fellows building to a local contractor who hopes to renovate and restore the structure.

On Aug. 1, the selectmen signed a purchase-and-sales agreement with Nate Burrington. The Warner native and the owner of Burlington Builders and Maintenance will purchase the 125-year-old wooden village building for $10. Burrington wants to convert the 72’-by-42’, three-story landmark into a combination workshop and office for his business, and rent space for office and/or residential apartments.

‘Selectboard Chairman John Dabuliewicz admitted that the town has lost some legal leverage in the agreement.’

 

Burrington first approached the selectmen about taking over the former fraternal meeting place more than six months ago. The town bought the building in 1999 for $50,000 with hopes that it could renovate it into commercial space, or repurpose it for elderly or workforce housing. After none of several such proposals worked out (and environmental issues were discovered on the property) residents were enthusiastic about Burrington’s unusual offer to take over the project and restore it at his own costs.

The idea was addressed at the annual town meeting in March and the selectmen indicated that they expected an agreement would be forthcoming.

Kimberley Edelmann, selectman, said negotiations became complicated. “Whenever you deal with a board, it takes a while because we can’t decide anything except when we’re in an (official) meeting,” she explained.

The selectman wanted some assurance that important restoration work, which includes structural and environmental remediation, would be done in a timely manner. They created a schedule of improvements with deadlines stretching out two years as part of the agreement. If Burrington didn’t comply, the town could retake the building – something it did not really want to do.

(The board was also interested in safeguarding the town’s investment in the property, which has grown to $80,000 as it handled various problems associated with the land since 1999.)

For his part, Burrington was hesitant to commit to a schedule, said Edelmann. If significant complications arose, from personal to international economic challenges, he would lose his initial investment when the town took the building back, she explained.

Finally, Edelmann suggested that the board change the schedule from one that was required to something Burrington would aspire to complete. In addition, a clause stipulates that if Burrington sells or passes on the landmark, the town will receive $80,000.

Edelmann said the agreement is somewhat unusual but seems to satisfy most of the concerns of both sides.

Chairman John Dabuliewicz admitted at a recent selectmen’s meeting that the town has lost some legal leverage in the agreement, but Edelmann pointed out that the Odd Fellows building would no longer be a municipal obligation.

This story first appeared in the InterTown Record, Tuesday, August 15, 2017.

 

MadgeTech wins legal fight; firing range decision will be reviewed by ZBA

Some Hopkinton residents are concerned about having a firing range near the Hopkinton Middle High School. They may be able to address the Warner zoning board of adjustment about the issue next month. (Ray Carbone/photo)

By Ray Carbone

WARNER – The founder and president of MadgeTech, Inc., the town’s largest high-tech employer, has won a significant legal victory in his efforts to derail the construction of a proposed indoor shooting range on land adjacent to his plant’s property in the Davisville area.

In a decision handed down last month, Judge Richard McNamara of the Merrimack Superior Court ruled that the town’s zoning board of adjustment acted improperly in March when it OK’ed a variance to its zoning regulations that would allow for the construction of the gun facility. The ruling, which was made in response to a legal request from Norman Carlson of MadgeTech, means that the approval is invalid and the ZBA will have to hold a new hearing to reconsider the proposal.

The ZBA’s next scheduled meeting is September 13. No agenda has yet been posted but Chairman Rick Davies has indicated that the plans for the $1.4-million shooting range and gun retail store will be reconsidered at that time.

The ruling does not mean that Hopkinton neighbors will be able to address the ZBA… (only) that the board must consider the question of whether (the project) has regional impact…

The court decision is a setback for both Eric Miller of Sutton, who hopes to build Dragonfly Ranges on a 2.9-acre lot adjacent to MadgeTech’s plant, and for the town, which opposes Carlson’s efforts to derail the plan. Carlson claims his employees have safety concerns about the facility, and said he’ll move his company out of town if the shooting range is built at the currently proposed site.

The court’s action came after Carlson’s lawyers argued that the ZBA should have considered whether Dragonfly’s project would have a regional impact, and therefore allowed both local Hopkinton residents and representatives of the Central New Hampshire Regional Planning Commission to address their concerns before making its March decision.

In addition, the board should have notified all abutters – including the state’s Department of Transportation and its Division of Forests and Lands – before the hearing to allow representatives of the two organizations to express concerns to the board.

(In a separate action, a couple that rents a small home on the MadgeTech’s land argued that they also should have been notified about the March ZBA hearing and allowed to discuss their concerns about the project.)

The town objected, saying that while no official notification was given to the state agencies, they were aware of the building proposal and had offered no objections. In fact, when the town’s planning board considered Dragonfly’s proposal in June, it invited input from both agencies, and neither indicated that it had any concerns about the project.

The judge’s ruling does not mean that Hopkinton neighbors or the commission representatives will be able to address the ZBA. It simply means that the board must consider the question of whether the project is of regional interest and, if so, allow others to speak at a public hearing.

The decision will also require that the renters be notified in advance of the next hearing and that the two state agencies that own land next to the proposed gun range be notified beforehand.

It’s unclear how the court ruling impacts the planning board’s June approval. If the ZBA reaffirms its March decision on the same grounds, it’s likely that the planners’ decision would stand. But if the case moves in another direction – that is, if information about the possibility of excessive noise or potential pollution concerns are reviewed – then town officials may recommend that the planning board rehear Dragonfly’s application after a ZBA approval.

This story first appeared in the InterTown Record of Sutton, N.H., on Tuesday, Aug. 15, 2017.

 

Construction begins on Warner shooting range project

By Ray Carbone

WARNER – Eric Miller, the Sutton resident who wants to build a $1.4-million, 11,800 square-foot shooting range and retail gun store on Warner Road attended a hearing in the Merrimack County Superior Court several weeks ago. Afterwards, he said he would wait until Judge Richard McNamara had ruled on several appeals from Miller’s abutters before moving ahead with any construction plans. But the entrepreneur had a change of heart.

Miller recently completed the purchase of the 2.9-acre property adjacent to MadgTech, Inc., near exit 7 off Interstate 89, and construction work has already begun on the land.

“If (town officials) are making that kind of commitment, then I need to make an equal amount of commitment to the project.”

– Eric Miller, owner of planed retail gun store/shooting range

 

“I spent a lot of time analyzing all the potential (legal) outcomes and realized that there isn’t really a scenario where I can’t hopefully be able to build,” he said late last week. “I’ve looked at this from every angleand decided that this is worth making this investment… So I pulled the trigger.”

The recent court actions involved appeals from Norman Carlson, the founder and CEO of MadgeTech, Inc., the town’s largest high-tech employer, to halt Miller’s project. Carlson says his employees feel the business will pose a danger to their safety, and he’s threatened to move his 50-plus-workers plant out of town if the project is constructed next to the company land. (In recent weeks, Carlson has been unavailable for comment.)

Earlier this year, both the planning board and the zoning board of adjustment approved Miller’s building proposal. Now, town officials are opposing Carlson’s efforts to have the judge toss out those decisions.

In the Concord superior court last month, Carlson and a couple that rents out a small house on his property asked the court to legally halt Miller’s project. Attorneys argued that the couple was not properly notified by the town about the two land boards’ hearings, and that other legal requirements had not been met. Both Miller’s attorney and the town’s refuted the claims.

However the town officials did ask the judge to order that the ZBA reconvene its public hearing, although only to specifically consider the question of whether the shooting range/gun store facility could be considered to have a regional impact. If it does, some Hopkinton residents who have expressed concerns about the location of the facility, just three miles from Hopkinton Middle High School, as well as representatives of the Central New Hampshire Planning Commission would be allowed to address the zoning board.

The Hopkinton residents (and other people with ties to the area) say they’re concerned about noise from the gallery and the possibility that lead from firearms and ammunition could somehow find its way into the local water supply. Representatives of the planning commission raised concerns about traffic in the neighborhood. Those concerns were discussed at the planning board hearing, but the board members decided that Miller’s plans were sufficient.

On Friday, Miller said that he completed his purchase of the 2.7-acre lot adjacent the Davisville State Forest on Monday, July 17, and that he hired a company to begin preparing the land for construction later that week. He had signed a purchase-and-sales agreement with Richard M. George of Webster earlier this year after Webster outbid Carlson for the land, which was formerly part of the forest.

Miller said that he was especially motivated to move forward with his construction plans after receiving a recent email from Warner officials indicating that they intended to continue their vigorous defense of the two land boards’ rulings.

“So, I thought, if they’re making that kind of commitment, then I needed to make an equal amount of commitment to the project,” Miller said.

Miller said that he’s spent more than $10,000 on legal fees related to the dispute so far, and he expects to spend more in the future.

This story first appeared in the InterTown Record of Sutton, N.H., on Tuesday, Aug. 1, 2017

 

The house sold, but more needs to be done before Warner gets a new firehouse

Above: The residence on the corner of Main Street and Split Rock Road will be moved in anticipation of a new stationhouse for the Warner Fire Department.

By Ray Carbone

WARNER – The town’s Fire Station Building Review Committee has sold the house that currently sits on land where town officials hope to someday build a new stationhouse for the fire department.

Chairman Allen N. Brown announced at a meeting in the town hall last week that the board of selectmen recently agreed to sell the 50-year-old private residence on the corner of Main Street and Split Rock Road to area resident Bob Irving for $337. The property was purchased by the town last year and no one is living in the house at this time.

Selectman Kimberley Edelmann confirmed on Saturday that Irving’s tentative plans call the structure to be moved soon to another location in town. “We didn’t want to tear it down,” she said, noting that the building is in relatively good shape.

Community leaders have been studying the idea of building a new facility for the fire department and emergency management operations for some time now. Officials say that the current station on Main Street is too small and inadequate for modern use.

The committee has been working with Anthony Mento, a Warner resident and project manager with Sherr, McCrystal, Palson (SMP) Architecture, Inc., of Concord, and North Branch Construction of Concord, on the proposed project.

Tentative plans would call for constructing a brick building that would be approximately 11,00-square feet and include offices and meeting space for emergency management and training, as well as fire department purposes. At last year’s annual town meeting, voters approved a $100,000 request to move the project forward with the goal of presenting a complete building proposal to residents for consideration at the 2018 March town meeting. Early estimates pegged the final price of the project at more than $2.5-million.

But exactly when the old residence will be moved is not yet clear, according to Ed Mical, the town’s emergency management director.

On Saturday, Mical said he’s planning to apply for a Federal Emergency Management (FEMA) grant that could help pay for some equipment (including computers, telephones, desks and chairs) for the proposed building’s emergency management operations. But the grant application stipulates that before new construction begins, there must be an environmental and historical evaluation of the current property. A certified historic expert has reviewed the land and building, he said, and now state officials must consider the findings and forward a recommendation to FEMA.

“Until we get their (FEMA’s) okay, we can’t touch the property,” explained Edelman.

Meanwhile, the town is scheduled to begin test borings on the site on August 2.

At last week’s meeting, the building committee agreed on several other important aspects of the proposed building project, according to Edelmann. One is the basic room design in the one-story building. Another insures that the garage space will have clear span throughout. And, finally, environmental issues have led to the group’s choice of an exterior concrete wall system that will be somewhat thicker than earlier proposals.

The group did not agree on a proposal from the town’s energy committee to hire an outside consultant to review the building plans with an eye towards insuring energy effectiveness. Mento of SMP said that his company supported the idea and agreed with the energy group’s recommendation. Several committee members said they chose the company specifically because they understood that the firm was able to provide energy-related expertise.

Mento said that SMP does have a good body of energy-related knowledge but acknowledge more specific issues could be addressed by an outside consultant.

Chairman Brown noted that the committee is working from a “bare bones” budget provided by the selectmen, and that there wasn’t money to hire an outside energy consultant right now.

After some discussion, the group agreed to review a list of possible consultants that the energy committee would supply before making a final decision soon.

This story first appeared in the InterTown Record of Sutton, N.H., Tuesday, July 18, 2017. NOTE: The print edition, and an earlier version published here, incorrectly listed the price of the home. It is $337; the earlier, much larger, figure  reflected information provided by a town official. We apologize for the error. 

 

 

A prize and new plans keep things happening in Warner

(Above:) Tentative plans for phase #3 of the development of the Jim Mitchell Community Park and Amphitheater in Warner calls for the creation of an educational “edible landscape” space.

By Ray Carbone

WARNER – In 2004, the nonprofit organization PlanNH came to town to hold a Community Planning and Design Charette. Katharine Nevins, the owner of Main Street BookEnds, recalled the free event as a special time where both community leaders and residents got together to discuss ways to make the town better.

“We talked about what we wanted to do with the exit 9 (off Interstate 89) area,” she recalled. “What did we see as our strengths? What did we want to do with the downtown, with access to the river, all those kinds of things.”

By that time, Nevins’ brother Jim Mitchell, who co-owned the store with his sister and her husband Neil Nevins, had already begun dreaming about a three-season community park adjacent to the store where the arts could be continually celebrated and advanced. “The charrette reinvigorated the idea, that this is what the town needed, what the community needed,” Nevins recalled. “It needed a focal point for things going on.”

Mitchell died suddenly in 2008, but his family and others associate with the MainStreet Warner nonprofit organization kept the idea alive. Today, the Jim Mitchell Community Park and Amphitheater is a local landmark, a spot for seasonal concerts, theatrical productions and various community events.

And now PlanNH has returned to the give a Merit Award for Excellence in Planning, Design, and Development to MainStreet Warner, Inc., for the creation of the park. The award also recognizes Pellettieri Associates of Warner for the design and construction of the project, which includes the post-and-beam stage designed and built by Peter Ladd, Robert Shoemaker and Charlie Betz.

‘It’s as if the late Jim Mitchell’s town slogan still hovers over the community: There’s something wonderful happening in Warner.’

“It means a great deal to us, to myself and the other (MainStreet Warner) board members to receive this award,” Nevins said. “PlanNH recognizes quality community development in towns and city in New Hampshire. It’s based on sustainability practices and giving back to the community, those kinds of things. For this group to come back and give us this award now, is very special.”

It’s been nine years since the park construction project began, converting an underutilized, slope-challenged, open space into a popular multi-use open park, she said.

And the work is still ongoing, Nevins explained.

“Where the (store’s) solar panels are there’s an asphalt driveway because the building used to be a bank and that was part of the drive-thru,” she said. “All of that asphalt – the plan is for that to come up this summer and that whole section next to the building, underneath the solar panels all the way out to Main Street, will be turned into an example of a living, edible landscape.”

When it’s finished, the area should include raised plant beds, rainwater irrigation, a composting area and educational resources. “Next year, we’ll involve the school and the whole community,” she added.

It’s as if the late Jim Mitchell’s town slogan still hovers over the community: “There’s something wonderful happening in Warner.”

This story first appeared in the InterTown Record, Sutton, N.H., on July 11, 2017.

 

Warner’s shooting range project now entangled in court actions

(Above: Norman Carlson, the founder and CEO of MadgeTech, Inc., the local high-tech business that employs almost 60 people, is fighting an effort to build a combination shooting range-gun retail store adjacent to his property on Warner Road.)

By Ray Carbone

CONCORD – The legal dispute between the town and Norman Carlson, founder and CEO of MadgeTech, Inc., moved a step closer to resolution at a hearing in the Merrimack County Superior Court last week.

Carlson, who owns the local 20-year-old, $10-million-per-year high tech firm, wants the court to overturn the zoning board of adjustment’s decision to allow the construction of a $1.4-million, 11,800 square-foot shooting range and retail gun store on property next to MadgeTech’s plant on Warner Road, by exit 7 off Interstate 93. Carlson says some of his 50-plus employees are concerned about their safety if the proposed high tech, 16-lane facility is built on the 2.9-acre lot adjacent to the Davisville State Forest.

‘When you’re raising your children, and right next door to you is a vacant lot and, if it’s developed, it will become a firearms facility with training, that’s a dramatic change.’ – Attorney Amy Manzelli

 

At the superior court hearing on Monday, June 26, Judge Richard McNamara reviewed several appeals that are related to the case.

The first is from Justin Carroll and Sarah Lansil, who live with their two children in a small building on MadgeTech’s property. Speaking on behalf of the couple, attorney Amy Manzelli said the town should have notified the couple about public hearings regarding the project, so the pair could make the town aware of their safety concerns.

But Michael Courtney, the town’s attorney, said that since Carrol and Lansil are month-to-month renters, and not property owners, the town was not obligated to notify them about the ZBA hearings.

Manzelli said that state regulations require towns to notify anyone who lives close to land where a significant usage change is being considered, regardless of their rental status. ”When you’re raising your children, and next door to you is a vacant lot and, if it’s developed, it will become a firearms facility with training, that’s a dramatic change,” she said.

Courtney later suggested that the couple had waited too long before making their concerns known to town officials. “We’re somewhat troubled by the timing,” the attorney told the judge, noting that public hearings began in April but Carroll and Lansil filed their request to be heard by the court just a few weeks ago.

In addition, the town counsel noted that the lot where developer Eric Miller wants to build his shooting range is in a commercially-zone part of town, so the family should have expected that a business enterprise could be constructed near their rented home.

In another action, the town requests that the judge instruct the zoning board of adjustment to rehear the original project proposal, but only as it relates to the question of whether the shooting range/retail store should be been considered of “regional importance.” A regional-importance designation would have allowed Hopkinton residents who have expressed caution about the location of the shooting range, just three miles from Hopkinton Middle High School, as well as representatives of the Central New Hampshire Planning Commission to address the ZBA.

Meanwhile, Paul Alfano and John F. Hayes, the lawyers representing Carlson’s businesses, asked that more than 200 pages of additional information about the project and the proposed site be added to the town’s official planning records. The materials contain data that was not provided to the ZBA before the group approved the plan, the attorneys argued.

A second filing asks the judge to have the town abandon all its previous actions related to the firearms proposal, and that it restart the entire planning over from the beginning.

At the meeting’s conclusion, Judge McNamara said that he would consider all the requests together, and announce his decisions soon.

Afterwards, if necessary, McNamara said he would rule on the larger question of how the town boards should proceed with the shooting range/retail store application.

This story first appeared in the InterTown Record of Sutton, New Hampshire, on July 4, 2017.

 

 

 

Warner planning board okays gun range, but court case will delay project

(Above: A stylistic illustration of the proposed gun shooting range/retail store in the area near the intersection of Route 103 and Warner Road.)

By Ray Carbone

WARNER – The town planning board has unanimously approved a proposal to build a $1.4-million, 11,800 square-foot shooting range and retail gun store on Warner Road, near exit 7 off Interstate 93.

But construction of the controversial project could still be sidetracked by a Merrimack County Superior Court case scheduled to begin this week.

The planning board held its sixth public meeting on the project proposed by Eric Miller of Sutton at the town hall on Monday, June 19. Miller wants to build a high-tech, 16-lane facility on a 2.9-acre lot adjacent to the Davisville State Forest.

Some area residents are in favor of the facility, but others say having a shooting range in the area is a bad idea. Several Hopkinton residents who live nearby as well as officials with the Hopkinton school district, are against the idea; Hopkinton Middle High School is located several miles from the land.

‘A shooting range is consistent with the zoning district. And, it would be inappropriate and illegal to chose winners and losers among (local business operations.)’ 

– Planning Board Chairman Ben Frost

The most prominent opposition has come from Norman Carlson, the founder and president of Madgetech, LLC, the town’s 20-year-old high tech company. Carlson’s plant is next to the proposed site and he’s said he will move the facility out of Warner if the shooting range is built. Some of his 50-plus employees have safety concerns about the nearness of the gun range, he’s said.

At the June 19 meeting, both Carlson and his attorney, Paul Alfano of Concord, displayed some displeasure with the planning board’s activities.

Vice-chairman Barbara Annis said that workers at the new shooting facility would be paid more than minimum wage, similar to Madgetech’s employees. A few moments later, Davis was answering a board member’s question about the ambient noise level at the proposed facility when Alfano asked if he could also respond.

Chairman Ben Frost turned the request aside, saying that the public hearing portion of the case had already been closed.

“I’d like to see the study (Mr. Davis mentioned),” the lawyer replied. “Our whole emphasis (in the court challenge) has been to provide information that’s specific to this site.”

Davis said it would be difficult to accurately measure noise from the shooting facility because of other ambient noise sources in the area.

“I could measure it,” Carlson retorted.

Earlier in the meeting, the board reviewed an environmental impact report that focused on how Davis’s facility with deal with hazardous materials, including lead. The members asked the prospective owner to agree to abide by recommendations in the report, and Davis did so.

The group also asked the new facility’s owner to specifically ban alcohol and illegal drugs from the premises, and to post a sign about the restriction. Again, he agreed.

Before the board’s final vote on the project, Alfano noted that Davis had submitted additional information about his project only days before.

“I think the public deserves the opportunity to meaningful review and comment (on the new materials),” the lawyer said.

The attorney also mentioned Frost’s remark regarding an email that Frost had sent to other board members earlier in the week that included a draft proposal of the final ruling. Alfano claimed the message violated the state’s right-to-know regulations.

Frost disagreed, saying the members couldn’t respond to his email and, therefore, the communications did not violate prohibitions against board members deliberating outside of a public meeting. “There was no deliberation,” the chairman said.

“Of course there was,” Alfano retorted.

“Your objections are noted,” Frost replied.

In its final deliberations, the board turned aside complaints related to possible off-site noise, as well as the possibility of increased traffic problems. The members said that the location, and Davis’s ambitious noise-control measures, made additional restrictions unnecessary.

The board’s final decision took note of objections that have been raised about the new business’s impact on the region, and regarding language in the town’s Master Plan directives related to supporting existing businesses.

“A shooting range is consistent with the zoning district,” Chairman Frost said in reply. “And, it would be inappropriate and illegal to chose winners and losers among (local business operations.)”

The chairman said the planning board is not the place to address public safety concerns. “Those concerns must be expressed in a different venue, such as in the New Hampshire Legislature or the United States Congress,” he said.

Carlson refused to make any public comment after the hearing. Davis said he was confident he would prevail in the upcoming court proceedings.

The pending court challenge was initiated by Carlson’s company. It claims that the Warner zoning board of adjustment violated town regulations when it held a public hearing on the shooting facility project in the spring without properly notifying abutters, including Madgetech and two state agencies (among them, the division of forests and lands). It requests that the court direct the ZBA to rehear the building proposal, allowing for input related to regional impact and other concerns.

Late last week, Davis said that attorneys representing his business, the town, and Madgetech had a telephone conference with the Merrimack Superior Court judge on Friday to review the upcoming legal challenge. The judge hopes to resolve several legal motions this week with an eye towards making a final decision on the ZBA issue at a later time.

This story first appeared in the InterTown Record, Sutton, N.H., on June 27, 2017.

 

 

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