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After Warner gun range missed mark, land owner sets sights on Concord, Pembroke

  • A map that shows Concord's zoning. Colors boxed in black on the key (lower left) show which districts would allow Dragonfly Ranges to bring an indoor skeet and trap shooting range to Concord. Courtesy of the city of Concord

  • Eric Miller, owner of Dragonfly Holdings LLC, was looking to build an indoor gun range and retail store just off Interstate 89’s Exit 7 on Warner Road in Warner. He has since sold the land to the project’s opponent. GEOFF FORESTER / Monitor file



Monitor staff
Wednesday, April 25, 2018

Plans for an indoor gun range and retail store in Warner may be dead, but Eric Miller isn’t giving up on bringing another shooting sports venue to Merrimack County.

After announcing the sale of the land on Warner Road to the abutter – which turns out to be project opponent MadgeTech Inc.President Norm Carlson, according to Merrimack County documents – last month, Miller recently said his aim has turned to Concord and Pembroke.

And unlike the fight to bring the gun range to Warner, which stretched out almost a year and included land use board appeals and a Superior Court case, culminating in a rejection by Warner’s zoning board, Miller thinks his project will come to fruition soon.

“I’m hoping to have a lease in place in the next 10 days,” he said during a recent interview. Once Miller secures a lease in either Concord or Pembroke, he said it’s a matter of appearing before a planning board for drainage and lighting requirements.

A Merrimack County warranty deed shows Miller sold the Warner Road property to Carlson for $240,000, more than double what Miller paid for the land when he bought it from Webster resident Richard George last year. That number was calculated from a transfer tax of $3,600.

There’s a key difference in Miller’s approach this time around. Instead of a gun range and retail store focusing on education and the use of live ammunition, Miller said Dragonfly Ranges will be an indoor skeet and trap range.

In Concord’s case, it’s a use that fits into the city’s commercial recreational facility uses, Code Administrator Craig Walker said.

Miller was coy about where he was looking to bring a shooting range because a lease had not been finalized. He said he was looking to be a tenant in a large building with a high ceiling.

According to Concord zoning guidelines, there is a variety of zoning options where Miller could place his range, including the Opportunity Corridor Performance district, the General Commercial district, the Urban Commercial district, the Highway Commercial district, the Central Business Performance district and the Gateway Performance district.

Miller said he’s moving away from the idea of a gun range because he doesn’t want to compete with local shooting ranges like the ones in Belmont and Manchester, both of which are within 25 miles of Concord.

But the shadow of the fight in Warner still weighs heavily on Miller, who had said after his proposal was defeated by Warner’s zoning board earlier this year that he would consider bringing a private shooting range to the Warner Road location.

The debate about whether a gun range could come to Warner was contentious nearly from the get-go: After being granted a special exception to operate in a commercial district last year from the Warner Zoning Board of Adjustment, Miller’s application faced fierce opposition from Warner and Hopkinton residents alike while under consideration by the planning board.

Its biggest opponent was potential neighbor MadgeTech, which is one of the town’s largest employers. Carlson said repeatedly throughout the dealings that his employees would not feel safe with an indoor gun range next door and would potentially move if the range were approved.

Carlson brought a lawsuit against Warner when the planning board approved Miller’s application in June. That suit resulted in a Merrimack County Superior Court judge ruling that Warner’s ZBA did not have a right to grant a special exception without notifying certain abutters. Miller and the town had to start all over again.

After five public hearings, Warner’s ZBA denied Miller’s application in January. Miller said the town ultimately favored MadgeTech in its decision, and he regretted not challenging its decision in court.

“The state of New Hampshire says you have to treat a gun range the way you do any other zoning location,” he said. “I found that was not true in Warner. ... I can’t make a multimillion-dollar investment in a town that doesn’t follow the law.”

But Miller said he opposed a faction of his supporters who mounted a campaign against Warner’s new fire station. That group was arguing that the amount of property taxes Miller’s range would have brought in would have offset the bond payment for the fire station.

“There’s no reason they would have had to have been an unintended casualty,” he said. “I was pleased to see that firehouse was approved; the first responders deserved that.”

(Caitlin Andrews can be reached at 369-3309, candrews@cmonitor.com or on Twitter at @ActualCAndrews.)