Fiery discussion on Warner indoor gun range proposal continues

Monitor staff
Published: 11/8/2017 11:40:51 PM

The debate around whether an indoor gun range and retail store should be allowed in Warner is nowhere close to being finished.

It was clear immediately that a decision wouldn’t be reached Wednesday night due to “hundreds” of pages of correspondence about the range the Warner Zoning Board of Adjustment had received in the lead-up to the meeting, said board vice chairwoman Janice Loz. Following that, she announced the immediate resignation of ZBA chairman Rick Davies.

But that didn’t stop abutters and residents from Warner and Hopkinton from speaking on the issue for almost two hours.

Paul Alfano, who is representing Warner business and abutter to the project’s site MadgeTech Inc., in an ongoing court case against the town, summed up much of what opponents of the project have been saying for months, including doubts that Miller’s plans would adequately suppress gunshot noise and abate the risks of lead poisoning, as well traffic and safety concerns stemming from the presence of a gun range.

Alfano also 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.”

That comment prompted Loz to ask MadgeTech owner Norm Carlson, who was present at the meeting, whether he owned a gun and believed guns are only used to kill.

The question sparked gasps from the audience and anger from Alfano, who asked why the information was relevant. Carlson responded that he did not own a gun, but said they are also used for hunting.

Later, when Amy Manzelli, who was representing abutters Sarah Lancel and Justin Carroll, said her clients were concerned about the range because of its proximity to their home and children, Loz asked if the abutters provided security for MadgeTech. The property manager of the abutter’s homes replied that they do. Loz then asked if the abutters owned guns. The abutters did not respond.

But things got tense when Keith Hanson, an instructor in tactical firearms use, said Alfano represents the Purgatory Falls Fish & Game Club in Mont Vernon and accused him of not being “intellectually honest” about the conversation.

“I hear a lot of fear, speculation and conjecture from a lot of people who don’t know anything about firearms,” he said. “How can we have an intelligent and ethically responsible conversation when we have someone who is talking out of both sides of their mouths?”

Alfano later said he represented the club last year for a zoning issue but does not represent them currently.

Some of the biggest opponents of the project have been residents of Hopkinton, who are concerned about the project’s potential environmental and public safety impacts on the town. The location for the range is just off Interstate 89’s northbound Exit 7 and is two-fifths of a mile from Hopkinton’s town line and 2 miles away from Hopkinton Middle High School.

A letter from the Hopkinton select board states that 63 of 74 residents who wrote to them asked the board to oppose the project. The letter, signed by board chairman Jim O’Brien, states a project like the gun range “inherently impairs the character of the Hopkinton district” the range abuts.

“People are telling you they don’t want this,” said Sarah Mattson Dustin of Contoocook. “They’re telling you it isn’t good.”

And several longtime Warner residents felt the same.

“I don’t see how construction of a gun range ... enhances the reason why people move to the town of Warner,” Pam August said.

But there were supporters, too, many of whom said the area is lacking places for area residents to shoot and learn to shoot safely.

“If someone walks into a Wal-Mart and a Dick’s, where do they go next? They can’t just go to a private club,” said Hopkinton resident Andy Stone.

Mary Watts of Warner said she used to fear guns when she first moved to town because all of her neighbors shoot guns and she feared a stray bullet would hit one of her children. But learning to shoot has abated that fear.

“That’s the most important thing places like this could give to the community,” she said. “It takes away the fear and helps people like me live in a community like this.”

Dragonfly Holdings LLC owner Eric Miller first appeared before Warner’s zoning board in March and was granted a special exception, and the planning board unanimously approved Dragonfly Holdings’s application on June 20.

But in July, a Merrimack County Superior Court judge voided the ZBA’s decision because two abutters, the town of Hopkinton and the Central New Hampshire Regional Planning Commission, were not properly notified of a public hearing. The ZBA has since found the project has potential for regional impact.

The next ZBA meeting is Dec. 13.

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