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Weare zoning board: Garage-based gun shop can keep operating

Last modified: 4/2/2013 11:25:32 PM
The Weare zoning board ruled unanimously last night that a residential gun shop at the center of an ongoing neighbor dispute can continue to operate because the “reasonable” time period for appeals on it had passed.

The board heard public testimony at its meeting last month as to whether the business, which is owned by Michael Stevens, meets zoning code criteria for a proper “home-based” business. A neighbor, Al Provost, filed an administrative appeal last fall contending it does not.

But the board postponed a ruling last month on the case, explaining that it needed time to confer with the town’s attorney to see if it even had the authority to make a ruling, since the business appeared to have been in operation since at least 2009.

Speaking last night, board Chairman Jack Dearborn said that he had received more definitive evidence since the March meeting that the town had approved the shop’s existence at least once in 2009, which indicated to him that the window of time for an appeal had passed.

“If the neighbors didn’t like it in 2009 they had a reasonable amount of time to come and say that,” he said. “This is an issue for superior court if it gets beyond the reasonable period for administrative appeal.”

Stevens has also operated a commercial firing range in his backyard in the past, but he was ordered by the town administrator in December to cease that activity until he acquires a site plan review for it. The ruling last night does not impact that order.

The board’s action seemed to come as a surprise to Provost’s attorney, Olivier Sakellarios.

“This is a strange thing you’re doing,” Sakellarios told the board, reasoning that the administrator’s December cease-and-desist order had effectively “reset the clock” for appeals.

But Dearborn said he did not believe it had because the administrator’s action regarded the firing range and not the actual gun shop, which was the only thing the current case involved.

Stevens’s attorney, Tony Soltani, supported Dearborn’s position.

“If you have a beef against a neighbor you go to superior court,” he said.

Sakellarios said after the meeting that Provost plans to do just that. He also has 30 days to submit to the zoning board any new evidence that could impact their decision last night.

The 2009 evidence that Dearborn cited before the ruling was a letter sent to Stevens by Weare land-use officer Chip Meany, stating that the shop, called Classic Armorer, was compliant with town regulation, and that Stevens could therefore install a sign on the property advertising it. Dearborn said though the letter did not offer proof of an exact date of when the shop was established, it did indicate that it was operating for at least 40 months before a formal administrative appeal was filed.

At the meeting last month, several neighbors besides Provost testified that the shop and firing range had become a noise and safety concern. Some said they routinely hear numerous rounds of gunshots fired on Stevens’s property. Some members of the board had also indicated at that meeting that they had concerns about the business, particularly its impact on traffic.

Sakellarios said last month that the shop does not fit the discrete profile of a home-based business as implied by the code, which lists “lawyer, doctor, realtor, accountant or notary” as examples of appropriate such business.

But Soltani had countered that it was “elitist” to allow some home-based businesses but not one that sells guns.

Stevens has said previously that he possesses all of the paperwork to legally operate the shop, which was originally used for automotive repair before morphing into its present iteration.

Meany said last month that his predecessor had approved the automotive venture, and that he had approved the new business because he considered it grandfathered in. Meany has also indicated several times that he is a close friend of Stevens.

Stevens also has a connection to the Weare Police Department, whose weapons he has serviced in the past. Dearborn has also paid him before to work on his guns; he said last month that he did not think it would affect his decision on the dispute.

(Jeremy Blackman can be reached at 369-3319, jblackman@cmonitor.com or on Twitter @JBlackmanCM.)


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