Warner ZBA denies indoor gun range

Monitor staff
Published: 1/11/2018 6:38:34 PM

A proposal to bring an indoor gun range and retail shop to Warner is off the table after the town’s zoning board denied Dragonfly Ranges a special variance that would have allowed the range to operate in a light industrial zoned region.

The 3-2 motion to deny the variance, made Wednesday night during the Zoning Board of Adjustment’s regular meeting, means the project is essentially finished, and brought a dramatic finish to months of debate about whether the range should be allowed.

Dragonfly Ranges owner Eric Miller has the option to ask the board to reconsider, and he said Wednesday night that he may explore creating a private shooting club, as opposed to the public range he had envisioned. Private clubs, he said, are allowed in the town’s zoning ordinances.

But as of now, it’s too soon to tell what’s going to happen next, he said.

“When you’re looking to make a multimillion-dollar investment in a town, you have to trust that the town is going to protect that investment,” Miller said. “Tonight’s decision challenges that belief in the town of Warner.”

One of the main reasons Miller said he pursued this project was that he wanted his range to have an educational component, meaning novice shooters would be welcomed in as customers. Under a private club – where members would have to pay monthly fees – he said he’s not sure will still be possible.

“I have to decide from a business standpoint whether it (a membership club) works, and does it maintain my interest,” he said.

The range faced perhaps its biggest opponent in its potential neighbor, MadgeTech Inc., which has said the presence of the range would make its employees feel unsafe and hamper future expansion plans.

The company brought a lawsuit against the town in the summer, which resulted in a judge ruling that the town’s ZBA did not properly notify abutters when it first heard the case in March 2017 and that the ZBA must rehear the case in its entirety.

For MadgeTech owner Norm Carlson and his attorney, Paul Alfano, Wednesday was a night of triumph.

“I’m relieved,” Carlson said. “I was almost nervous, but this is a huge win for us.”

Carlson said the ongoing process has been difficult for him and his employees. And on Wednesday night, he said he wasn’t sure which way the wind was going to blow.

But, as the board began to deliberate, Carlson dared to hope.

“I sent a text to a friend, saying ‘I get a feeling we’re going to lose,’” he said. “But then, it was like, ‘I think we might have a chance, I think we are going to win ... we f’ing won.”

The key to fighting the range was to keep the argument fact-based, said Alfano, Carlson’s lawyer.

That also meant keeping the discussion one about land use, and not guns, attorney Liz Nolin said.

“Our personal viewpoints have been kept out of this entirely,” she said. “We kept it as factual as possible to help the board do its job.”

But the debate around gun safety and violence has been with the project since the beginning, according to planning and zoning board meeting minutes and documents.

Warner and Hopkinton residents have been passionate defenders and vocal opponents of the project. Warner has received hundreds of written public comments from residents of both towns; as of this week, letters were still coming in, according to the town’s land use office.

Opponents have focused on the range’s impact on both towns culture, potential environmental risks and whether having a range would invite danger. In particular, Hopkinton residents have spoken about concerns about the range’s 2-mile proximity to Hopkinton Middle High School.

In November, Alfano said guns are designed to kill and that allowing the gun range would be a “direct attack on this very important business in this town.”

Speaking Wednesday night, Alfano said he regretted that line. “The reason I said that was, I was trying to say that these are dangerous things that can be dropped,” he said. “And it was grabbed as ‘Oh, Alfano is making this a gun case.’ We had to try to not be sucked into that.”

Both Carlson – who said he’s not anti-gun, just “anti-gun in that location ” – and Alfano admitted that in a case like Dragonfly Ranges, divorcing public sentiments from the matter at hand may have been difficult.

“The reality is, maybe it’s not possible,” Alfano said.

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

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