A firearms business in Epsom has the green light to open but ‘neighbors are up in arms’

By RAY DUCKLER

Monitor staff

Published: 09-02-2023 11:06 AM

An Epsom couple received permission to open a home business to sell firearms online and at trade shows after residents protested that it wasn’t allowed in a residential area.

The decision follows a disagreement between the Planning Board, which approved the application and the Zoning Board, which rejected it.

Following legal pressure from the couple, the Epsom Zoning Board reversed course on its previous unanimous objection and by a 4-1 vote gave Steve and Patricia Rhodes permission to sell firearms from their home on Lena Lane under certain conditions.

Those conditions include: customer or delivery pickup of firearms must be made by appointment at a specific time; delivery will be limited to one customer per week; customer firearms cannot be loaded at any time during the transfer; and ammunition cannot be manufactured or sold at the Rhodes’ home.

“Mr. Rhodes explained that he plans to sell firearms and sporting goods via the internet and at trade shows. Ms. Rhodes stated that no one will come to the property to purchase or pick up any goods, and all goods would be shipped directly from the manufacturer to the customer,” attorneys representing Steve and Patricia Rhodes wrote to the town. The couple could not be reached for comment.

It’s unclear where the issue goes from here, but a town official said there’s a good chance those who oppose the latest ruling might appeal the matter or challenge it in court.

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The conflict began in May, when the Planning Board okayed the Rhodes’ application, by a 5-2 vote, to run their business from home, calling it a home occupation, not a retail store.

Then in July, the Zoning Board sided with resident Robert Topik on appeal, agreeing by a 5-0 vote that a home occupation should not be permitted in a residential/agricultural zone, in accordance with the Epsom’s land use regulations.

But Steve and Patricia Rhodes were granted a rehearing before the Zoning Board last Wednesday and, by a 4-1 vote, the board chose to overturn its earlier denial, clearing the way for the firearms business to open.

The couple hired Manchester attorneys John F. Bisson and Shawn R. Dunphy to represent them on Wednesday.

“Because the applicants’ proposed home occupation does not meet the definition of retail establishment, they are not required to apply for a variance and the ZBA has no basis to overturn the Planning Board’s decision,” the attorneys wrote.

Reached by phone, Dunphy would not speculate why the Zoning Board reversed its opinion, saying, “I don’t know what changed the decision.”

Documentation presented by the Rhodes’ lawyers on Wednesday cited the Planning Board’s 5-2 vote 3½ months ago that gave the green light to the business, bolstering their case for their client.

While a retail store would not be permitted in a residential area, the attorneys said “the applicants explained that they would only sell parts and accessories at trade shows. The applicants made it clear on multiple occasions no (assembled) guns would be sold or stored on the property.”

Epsom residents have said that traffic near the business is a concern, even though the conditions laid out by the Zoning Board of Adjustment documented its desire to limit delivery “to one customer per week.”

Still, some in town, including longtime resident Mike Keeler, worry about safety, despite the pledge not to store weapons on the property.

“Neighbors are up in arms about this issue,” Keeler said.

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